Saturday, May 29, 2010
Little-known fact: Gigi drinks several glasses of milk-type product a day (I say milk-type, because I don't drink real milk, but soy or other substitutes). There are various reasons for this, but it's not because I love the taste. Truthfully, I more or less just chug to get it over with.
Earlier in the year Ben & Jerry's introduced a new flavor called Milk & Cookies. Instead of being just a vanilla ice cream with chocolate sandwich cookies, this version is vanilla ice cream with a chocolate cookie swirl and pieces of "chocolatey" chip and chocolate chocolate chip cookies. Now to be perfectly honest, I first sampled this flavor on my trip to Ben & Jerry's. It was the flavor they were sampling at the end of the tour (read all about it here), so I already knew going in that I liked this flavor.
The base is the classic Ben & Jerry's vanilla that you know and expect from all the other vanilla-based flavors they make -- including, of course, plain vanilla.
The cookie swirl is a nice crumby trail of chocolate sandwich cookies. It adds an interesting texture to the ice cream. Because this flavor is so packed with cookies, the texture is never 100% smooth, but it's not gritty either. It's just like that last sip of the milk that you've been dunking cookies into -- full of soft crumbs.
Let's be honest: the chocolate chocolate chips cookies aren't a terribly new addition, because all cookies and cream flavors use chocolate cookies...but they do taste good!
It's the "chocolatey" chip cookies that add the extra umph (think traditional chocolate chip cookies). If you have ever had a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, you know how good it can be. (And if you haven't, you need to.) The combination of the traditional chocolate (ahem, "chocolatey," excuse me) cookies along with the chocolate chocolate chip is just...it's almost like seeing a unicorn, it's that good.
Now, I do have to bemoan the use of "chocolatey" chip cookies in place of real chocolate chip cookies. I will grant that there is so much flavor going on here that you really can't tell there's mockolate in use. But I am going to state once again that I still prefer the use of real chocolate over the use of "chocolatey" or "fudgey" add-ins. I am just picky like that.
I have to go step off my soap box now and go get another bowl...
But while I am doing that, be sure to check out Dubba's review over at On Second Scoop.
270 calories per half cup.
Kosher, Fair Trade.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Yes folks, we may have hit a new low as a society. Did you know that they are now serving faux-Margaritas at Taco Bell?
Let's all be brutally honest. For the most part, there are really only two reasons that people eat at Taco Bell:
1. You are poor, and you can get an absurd amount of food on the cheap.
2. You are really stoned or drunk (or both) and it just sounds like a really good idea. (And there are always the times when you are simultaneously poor, stoned, and/or drunk...and again, damned if Taco Bell just doesn't sound good).
I admit it: the only times I eat there are when I am either too poor to afford anything else, or I am drunk and it sounds good (someone else drives, I assure you).
It stands to reason that if you are eating there because it's so cheap, you probably cannot afford to buy the ingredients to mix a real margarita for yourself, nor to go to the bar for one. And why should a little thing like money keep you from the limey goodness of a margarita? Well, once again, Taco Bell has your back. Yes, I realize that there may be adults out there that just want the flavor without the alcohol. But jokes aside, I have a feeling that these drinks will appeal more to 14-year-old girls who order them because it makes them feel sophisticated.
Cost issues notwithstanding, I have to admit that my inner mixologist -- the snooty side of me who is a cocktail snob, and thinks that cocktails or even mocktails should only be made with freshly squeezed juices from actual fruit and not little plastic fruit shaped bottles -- is somewhat horrified at this whole concept. Oh, how I would love to be Audrey Saunders when I grow up...
However, the actual working bartender in me is nudging the mixologist part of me aside with the pointy swizzle stick of reality. Do you love any of the myriad flavored margaritas that are so popular with aging suburban women who like to fancy themselves part of a Sex and The City-style ensemble of friends? (I call those drinks Momgaritas, BTW.) If so, the fact is that you are 99% assured of drinking something that relies heavily on batches of flavored base. Those bases may taste like fruit juices, but they usually aren't. And in the case of virgin margaritas, unless the bar cuts the drink with a bit of lemonade or soda (which I am firmly against), all you are getting is a pre-made sour mix either frozen or over ice. Some places even use the same brands you can buy in the supermarket. So unless your neighborhood bar is owned and operated by dedicated cocktail purists, this prefab stuff is what you're going to get. And as far as the chains go...well, let's put it this way: Your local TGI McFunster's ain't run by cocktail purists. Period. None of the chains ever are.
Anyway...my point to all of this is that even for Taco Bell, it should be pretty hard to screw up a virgin margarita.
So, will I be wasting the day away in Tacobellritaville, sucking down faux-ritas while regretting the three gorditas I probably ate alongside? Erm...probably not.
First off, the color is weird. It's a rather bizarre shade of peachy-green. I could have understood dirty ice, or plain green, or even yellowish green. But peachy? The hell...?
And then there's the flavor. It's like the industrial chemical love child of a lime Otter Pop and floor cleaner. There is nothing remotely margaritalike about it except that it's (unpleasantly) lime flavored. Need I remind you again how hard to is to screw up a virgin margarita? You literally could go to the store, buy the cheapest bottle of sour mix, toss it over some ice in a glass rimmed with table salt, and it would still taste more like a "real" margarita than this did.
Hell, even as a limeade it never really gets past "meh" level.
Is it the worst thing on the Taco Bell menu? No, but it's not good either. Taco Bell also offers a Strawberry Margarita -- and the only difference is that the strawberry version features the strawberry puree-type topping they use on all of the strawberry Frutistas. I skipped it.
I should have skipped this, too.
454 Calories for 16 ounces.
Does not contain alcohol or fruit juice.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I have been jonesing for lasagna in the worst way for about a week now. Sadly, the lasagna I really want is located in Georgia (and my mother does not like to make lasagna all that much). In my house lasagna was made, without exception, on Christmas and Easter. But during the rest of the year, getting it was more of a treat. And yes, I do LOOOOOVES it cold, straight from the fridge.
Believe it or not, though, I have never attempted to make my own lasagna from scratch. Honestly, it is a little too much work to go into for something that only I will eat. I am also notoriously picky about my Italian foods. I tend not to like restaurant versions. As for the one restaurant lasagna that I did like...well, while the restaurant is still there, the old lasagna is not (most of the food changed when the owners did).
So, what's a girl to do? Stouffer's was on sale...and it's pretty damn hard to turn down not only the chance for a review, but lasagna for only $1.88! And to be fair to Stouffer's, I really do like their veggie lasagna.
But how does this version stand up?
I got the all cheese/no meat lasagna. It features the layers of noodles and sauce you would expect, with a generous cheese center.
The sauce is the same sauce used by Stouffer's for their French Bread Pizzas (which I love), and, I assume, many of their other red-sauced items. It's on the sweet side, but there are actual chunks of tomatoes and visible herbs. It's not a sauce that I would want to eat by itself, but it's doable.
The noodles are thick, and like most pasta that has been frozen, a little gummy. Not gummy enough to ruin it, but it could be better. (At the same time, it could be worse.)
The cheese center is reasonably tasty. It's a little mushy but it is cheesy. I couldn't tell you what cheeses the five cheese blend actually consists of, but yeah...it's definitely cheese.
As a whole?
I have had much worse that I paid a lot more for. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. It just sort of was. But I do understand why a lot of people like it -- for a mass-marketed frozen item, it's certainly tasty enough, and of course it's easy and convenient.
I still prefer the veggie version, though.
370 per serving (1 small package).
Contains milk and wheat.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I like to think my sense of adventure is up there. I bungee jumped long before everyone and their grandma did it. I will try just about anything edible or drinkable you can throw at me (and I've probably reviewed it here somewhere). I've even -- gasp! -- worked retail on Black Friday. Really, there is no limit to my daredevil side.
So when I got an email from the good people at Gail Ambrosius asking me if I would like to review one of their truffle collections, I grabbed my Indiana Jones hat and waited, somewhat patiently, for them to arrive.
Gail Ambrosius is an old school chocolatier who -- along with her staff, of course -- makes all of her single origin chocolate by hand in small batches. Kinda made me think of a chocolate version of a micro-brew. Gail's chocolates, in addition to being single origin, are also free of preservatives, with all natural, sustainable ingredients. (And since there are no preservatives, their lifespan is brief. These are not chocolates you can leave on a shelf and forget about for a couple of months.) Gail is clearly head over heels in love with her craft. If you read her blog -- or her biography on her site -- it is impossible not to sense how much she loves what she does.
I personally love a good truffle too, as my past truffle reviews reveal, and I was very excited about the six truffles in this collection.
So, here we go...
This truffle was wrapped in a bright orange foil. Hidden underneath the foil is a truffle made up of 65% Colombian chocolate, dusted with a fine layer of cinnamon.
What I loved about this truffle was that the incredibly smooth chocolate is just sweet enough that it is not bitter, but you wouldn't mistake it for a milk chocolate. The cinnamon is actually the first thing you taste. It's spicy but not overpowering. The best part is the heat from the cayenne, with just a teeny tiny peppery aftertaste. I could eat an entire box just of this truffle.
Sweet Curry with Saffron:
This truffle is made with Hawaiian chocolate. I can't say that I've ever had Hawaiian chocolate before, but it made me think of Marvo -- and that in turn made me think of Marvo doing the Truffle Shuffle -- which, for the record, I have never seen him do, but it sounds like something he would do. (Nothing but love for you, man, nothing but love!) All of that distracted me from the fact that this truffle also contains coconut. And coconut is my natural enemy...well, that may be going a little far. But it is safe to say I am not the biggest fan of the stuff. This truffle also has coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom and the top is sprinkled with strands of saffron -- world's the most expensive spice.
This truffle smells vaguely like generic Indian food. The turmeric and the cumin were the strongest flavors. I picked up the coconut more as an aftertaste. The information for this truffle describes the chocolate as having a raisin-like aftertaste -- and damned if that's not the best way to describe it. Honestly, while I liked the spice and I liked the chocolate, the coconut killed this truffle for me. But I am sure coconut fans would love it.
This truffle is filled with a ganache that is made with 65% Peruvian chocolate nibs that have been caramelized. There is also a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. The truffle is topped with candied almonds.
This truffle is like chocolate to the eleventh power. It's a little sweet, and you taste just enough of the cinnamon and the vanilla so that you know they're there, but otherwise it is just pure chocolate essence. The nibs are almost completely ground, but there are little chunks here and there that add crunch to the otherwise smooth filling. Very nice!
Lemongrass with Ginger:
This one reminded me of Thai food. The chocolate is a 70% Venezuelan chocolate that is infused with dried organic lemongrass, coconut purée, and ginger pulp. It is topped with candied lemon peel and dried safflower.
Even with the coconut I loved this truffle, mostly because the strong warmth of the ginger worked to cover up all but the last notes of the coconut. The lemongrass gives it a fresh clean taste, and the dark chocolate just wraps the whole thing up in an earthy blanket.
This one is made with chocolate that Gail herself treks to Costa Rica to get. It's a simple truffle, made only with said chocolate, plus cream and vanilla bean.
This is the most basic truffle in the mix. It is also a great example of how sometimes it is the little things that make the most impact. With this truffle, all you taste is the chocolate. It's a little fruity, a little coffee-like. It's sweetened by the cream. If you are just beginning to get into dark chocolates, this is an excellent place to start.
Not going to lie -- this single truffle was the entire reason I chose this collection out of the others available. Seriously, how could you not want to try chocolate and mushrooms together?!
The chocolate is the 65% Peruvian, and is mixed with a mixture of dried shiitake mushrooms and cream.
Anyone who says that mushrooms and chocolate do not belong together needs to be fed this truffle -- even if by force at first. The mushrooms bring a slightly chewy texture to the center. Paired with the dark chocolate, it tastes like fresh soil, coffee, woodsy happiness. It's sweet, it's salty, and it's probably going to become my new obsession.
Yeah, this was a great collection. The texture of the all of the truffles, regardless of flavor/chocolate was excellent. Just enough snap on the outer shell. The interior ganache was silky smooth and cool on the tongue. These are some of the best truffles I have ever had.
The box also included...
A bonus! (I think)
While not listed as part of the Adventurous Collection, my box also contained a couple of the Caramel Sprinkled with Grey Salt squares. Not one to look gift salted caramel in the mouth (or share it willingly), I was thrilled with the addition.
The Columbian chocolate is deep and coffee-like. The salt was everything you could ever hope for. The texture of caramel itself is super soft and smooth, almost to the point of being a butter cream. It's mildly buttery and sweet. It is at its best when you get a part of the square with a lot of salt on it. There was something about it that I just couldn't put my finger on -- and it kept me from deciding whether or not I really loved it -- or if I was really indifferent to it. But I still ate all of them, so I am leaning towards really liking it.
This collection is just a tiny portion of what Gail Ambrosius offers. Be sure to check out the website to view it all for yourself. (Sadly for my international friends, they are currently able to ship only within the U.S. So if you see something you reeeeaaaallllllly gotta have, you might want to start being really nice to your U.S. friends!)
Get your hands on this collection by any means necessary.
Sample from company
Monday, May 24, 2010
What pulled me to this bar was the use of the word (well, I guess it's sort of a word) "Scrumdiddlyumptious." A co-worker and I have actually had conversations about how the word "scrumptious" is not being used enough, and...well this was pretty close.
The Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious bar is part of the Wonka line, and is a milk chocolate bar with toffee pieces, crispy cookie, and peanut bits.
First, regardless of taste, I liked how they molded this bar. As you can see, it's got a really whimsical mold. The pieces come in a variety of sizes to break off, and there is the standout W in the center. It looks good -- but how does it taste?
The chocolate is very smooth and very sweet. There are strong dairy notes; you can definitely taste the milk in the bar. But the chocolate is still very, very sweet. My throat was burning after only a couple of squares.
While the mix-ins are plentiful, they're not uniform. So some squares have oodles of "crunches" and some have next to none. The toffee bits were my favorite because they added a little buttery, salty hint. The cookies in question just seemed plain and blah. There's nothing really wrong with them, but they're certainly nothing exciting. The peanuts were crunchy and added a nice nut flavor.
I gotta give Wonka points for the cool name, and for having an interesting ingredients list. Tastewise, it was decent but it didn't really rock my world. I won't be pulling on an Oompa Loompa suit and trying to sneak into the factory for free bars just yet, but it was a nice enough option.
Check out both Cybele's review here, and Jim's review here.
170 per 1/3 bar.
Contains peanuts. Made on equipment shared with tree nuts and wheat.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I think that it wouldn't take much to make me like any food with the word "puffs" in it. If just for cheesy puffs alone, the word Puff=Good in my mind. Toss in the word "lemon" and you practically have to pull me off of it like a Jersey Shore kid from a tanning bed.
This candy pretty much lived up to my expectations. Each puff is about the size of a large gumball. The flavor, truthfully, is on the fake lemon side -- but in a good way. It has a sweet lemonade flavor to it.
The texture is interesting. For some reason when I read "soft," I thought the texture might be sort of like a butter mint: almost creamy and smooth, sort of like a wet cereal marshmallow. But that's not what this is like. It's not smooth like, say, a hard candy. But at the same time is not as crumbly and chalky as a dextrose candy (like Sweetarts or Smarties), at least not at first. Once you have let the candy melt in your mouth a little, it will start to honeycomb and break off into little pebbles. The texture becomes quite addictive.
Bottom line? This was a tasty little candy!
Sample from company
60 calories per 3 pieces/puffs.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I am a coffee snob. We all know it, and I have admitted it. We all know my coffee of choice is Starbucks. But we also know I cannot resist a review.
I have reviewed some of the other drinks in McDonald's McCafe lineup. My general thoughts have been mixed. The iced latte is a perfectly serviceable (and huge) cup of...well, plain iced latte. (In truth, it is really heavy on the milk -- and I tend to add enough Splenda to sweeten the drinks of a small country and then some.) On the other hand, I would cross frozen tundras naked to avoid the Mochas.
Loving the other guys as much as I do, I can honestly say I usually don't go in for the "frozen coffee beverage" all that much (especially the "new" version), so I thought this offered Mickey D's a pretty level playing ground.
The McDonald's Frappe comes in Mocha and Caramel. I clearly opted for Caramel.
The texture is super, super smooth -- almost more like a melted milk shake than like the somewhat chunky with ice bits version that you maybe are more familiar with. I actually have to give McDonald's a point for this one. I really did prefer the smoother, thinner texture.
The caramel: Well, there is a generous drizzle on top of the whipped cream topping, and that's not bad. The caramel that is actually blended into the drink (all I know is that it is a liquid caramel flavor that is part of the drink's base) does taste like caramel -- a chemical version of caramel. There is an ultra sweet aftertaste, and if you like ultra sweet drink, you probably won't notice quite as much as I did.
The coffee taste is light, with just a little bit bitterness towards the end. If you like your frozen coffee drinks to be bolder, this may not be the drink for you. But if you are just a casual coffee drinker, it is probably about what you are expecting. I do prefer my coffee bolder as a rule, but in frozen/cold drink I would rather have a sweeter and lighter coffee flavor.
In the end, while there is no question about where my preferred hot coffee drinks come from, I would not write the McCafe Frappe off my list. It's light and sweet, and I can even overlook the not-so-great caramel. For fast food coffee, it is a really good option.
There is one other thing that I noticed that I feel the need to share: it's kind of weird, but I noticed that it does leave a lingering aftertaste that I could best call "jelly doughnut revisited." It's not bad, but it's...kinda weird.
550 calories per 16 oz drink.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Nut mixes are just awesome. They are crunchy, they are salty, and they go well with beer. And if you are really tasteless, they have an entire set of built in dirty jokes (not that I would ever tell such jokes, of course).
Today was a nut mix kinda day, so I reached into my stash and grabbed this bag of Sahale Snacks Barbecue Almonds with Mild Chipotle + Ranch.
You know, I have a love for all things hot and spicy. And I do in fact like chipotle peppers. But -- much as with jalapeño a few years back (and to be fair, chipotles are in fact smoked, dried jalapeños) -- chipotle has become one of those trendy, hipster food flavors. And since it's had it's heyday, maybe it's time to do something fresh and stop using it as the go-to "hot" ingredient in everything. The only thing that could make this any more whitebread and predictable would be if they paired it with ranch flavor...
Don't get me wrong: I know this sounds pretty harsh. And yes, I do like ranch dressing (though not to the point of those who practically drink it with dinner). It's just that the two flavors are at this point predictable, and honestly boring. No, it does not mean this can't be a good mix -- it just means that it's going to have to work extra hard to impress me. Maybe if it did some hard core parkour, that would help. (And dammit, that has had its heyday too!) C'mon, Sahale, bring it on!
The smell of the nuts...who doesn't like to smell nuts? (Insert snickering of thirteen-year-old boys here) It's sort of a spicy, oily smell, not bad. The nuts themselves are whole, which is always good, and they are completely encrusted in the spice mixture.
The nuts are very crunchy. Gotta love that! The taste is mostly smokey, with a teeny bit of heat. I can't say I actually tasted the ranch at all -- at least not in that full-on "where's the lettuce," super-strong, powdered flavor sort of way that most ranch items end up with.
Same with the chipotle. There's a bit of heat, but there's not much flavor that's really identifiable as chipotle.
So what did it taste like? Honestly, it tastes like they'd opened up some of those foil flavor envelopes that come inside Ramen packages -- any Ramen flavor -- and rolled the almonds in that. I'll admit that doesn't sound very good, but it does have an interesting, salty addictiveness. It reminded me a lot of Cratz snacks, actually.
It's hard to rate this snack, because while I don't think it tasted anything like the flavors it's supposed to, it actually does taste fairly good. Since I can only in good conscience rate based on what the product is supposed to be, that is how I will do it -- but I did like them more than the actual number reflects.
Sample from company
140 calories per 1/4 cup.
Contains nuts. Processed at a factory that also processes peanuts.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Believe it or not, this is my very first Thornton's bar EVER! I am well aware of the Thornton's line because of Jim's many reviews, and of course Cinabar's Foodstuff Finds reviews. And once again, we have Cinabar to thank for a review of yet another U.K. product. Everyone say thank you to Cinabar for sending out this bar as part of our epic "Oceans Be Damned!" candy swap!
This little bar is roughly the length of a Twix, and consists of a mousse center (it looks like chocolate mousse from the picture) that's encased in what Thornton's calls its "special mixture of white and milk chocolate," and then the whole thing gets a little sprinkle of sugar.
Even through the packaging, the bar feels short and pudgy...kinda like Ricky Gervais.
The question is, would the bar prove to be as deliciously wonderful as Ricky?
No worries, Ricky. You can sleep soundly tonight.
Let's start with the texture. When I read the word "mousse" I expect to get something that is fluffy, light and airy. I will grant you that this bar has traveled well over 5,000 miles to get to me -- and maybe something happened in transit that caused the texture to change. That said, the overall texture of the bar was more like what we in The States consider to be fudge-like. It's very dense, a little grainy, but it is cool on the tongue. In any case, "mousse" would not be the word I would use to describe it.
Taste? It reminded me of raw cookie dough -- and in the worst way possible. It's way too sweet, and yet oddly salty (and not in the good way, either).
What's weird is that it doesn't actually taste much like chocolate. It just tastes like sugar. Intense sugar that burns the back of your throat. If there is a difference in taste between the two layers, I couldn't tell you what it was.
Yeah, as a matter of fact I think I will send the rest of the bar to Ricky and see if he can get Karl Pilkington to feed it to monkeys. There really isn't anything nice I can say about this bar.
Be sure to check out Jim's review here. He didn't like it much more than I did.
Gift from Cinabar of Foodstuff Finds.
195 calories per bar.
Contains milk and soy. May contain nut traces.