Can you believe that we are already halfway through 2010? Is it just me, or has this year been flying past way too quickly?
At the request of the ever-cool Nick from 402 Productions, I am presenting you with my list of my favorite Top Ten reviewed items of the first half of 2010. So, without further ado, they are...
10. Cadbury Crunchie
This bar is one of my favorite honeycomb bars ever, although what we call "honeycomb" the Brits call "sponge toffee." Either way, it's brilliant. I'm lucky enough to be able to get this bar (albeit at premium pricing) at my local British import shop.
9. Sucré: "For The Love of Chocolate" Truffles
Quite simply, these might be the most wonderful chocolate raspberry truffles you will ever taste. And with a screaming red metallic-looking finish, they are quite pretty in the bargain.
8. Panda Licorice: Raspberry
I didn't think it was even possible that I would find a flavor I liked at least as much as Classic Black Panda, but indeed it was. It's embarrassing to admit that I cannot keep this stuff in the house because I will eat the entire bag in a day...by myself, yet. Once again, all hail the great nation of Finland for bringing us such joy!
7. Ben & Jerry's: Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie Ice Cream
Sadly, this was a limited edition flavor, and if you didn't have the chance to try it when it was available, you are SOL now. But if there was ever a flavor that I hope comes back, it is this one. Really, really good.
6. Trader Joe's Tarte d'Champignon
This has actually become one of my freezer staples for those nights when I don't feel like cooking dinner from scratch. On top of being ridiculously easy to prepare -- simply heat and eat -- it's just so damn good it's nearly obscene!
5. Too Haute Cowgirls: A Fistful of Fleur de Sel Popcorn
Quite possibly the best caramel corn on the planet -- period!
4. Wonka Exceptionals Fruit Jellies: Red Apple
Yes, I still say there is way too much packaging on these candies. But they are just so good I don't care. They are sweet and poppable and addicting!
3. Archway Frosty Lemon Cookies
I said it in the review, and I'll say it again: these are my favorite lemon cookies of all time. No one else even comes close.
2. Cadbury Wispa Gold
I have to thank Cinabar of Foodstuff Finds for getting one of these bars into my greedy little hands. This bar may be the best single thing Cadbury makes - and I know how loved they are outside of the U.S. Hey, it's caramel in "aero" chocolate...is there any way that couldn't be good?
1. Dreyer/Edy's Pineapple Juice Bars
I am certifiably addicted to these bars. No, seriously, I have at least one each night as my "snack." I love them so much that if my local store is out, I will check any number of "back-up" stores to keep my stock going. If they ever discontinue these bars, I will probably crawl up into a ball and die.
So there you have it -- my best of 2010 so far!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Yes, I know the word "horehound" sounds like something that best describes aging Disney Channel stars. (Cease and desist letter from Disney in 3,2,1...) But horehound candy is actually one of those old school treats that has been around for so long that your great-great-grandpappy probably got them from his great-great-grandpappy.
Though horehound drops aren't seen much anymore, the folks at Gilliam have been making them since the 1920s -- and they still do. So, what is horehound, you might ask? Excellent question. My rather exhaustive research on Wikipedia says that it is a bushy herb in the Lamiaceae family, which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying it's a type of mint. Horehound is also said to be good for colds, asthma and general I-feel-ickyness. It can even be made into a soft drink called horehound beer, which is reportedly drunk in the Deep South (although I don't recall seeing it when I lived in Georgia), parts of the UK, and Australia.
All of the above is well and good, but how does it taste? And does it make a good candy? If candy doesn't taste good, what's the point? Well, we'll soon learn...
Each drop is lightly sanded and roughly the size of a cough lozenge.
As for the flavor? It's an herbal taste that reminds me of a mix of tea and mint -- and that's a pretty good mix. It tastes the best for about the first 20 seconds. After that the mint notes become more subtle, and you start to notice the sadly familiar flavor of the corn syrup that the candies are made with. (These candies also have sugar; and to be fair, pretty much all hard candy -- in the United States, anyway -- includes generous amounts of corn syrup. I just don't care for that taste.)
I wish that the tea/mint flavor stayed strong for a longer time. But even with the flavor drop-off, and even with the corn syrup, this is still a damn good candy. It's just so simple and basic, and...well, nostalgic. It's as if they'd taken the golden parts of the 19th Century, things like Currier & Ives prints, garden-fresh heirloom produce, Great Aunt Euphemia with her apple cobbler, gingham dress, and exclamations of "Land sakes!", and somehow managed to distill it all into candy form -- while simultaneously filtering out the less pleasant parts of the 19th Century; things like slavery, appalling industrial accidents, congenital syphilis, and...well, you get the idea. It's a selective nostalgia, but a sweet and gentle one nonetheless.
I found myself nibbling on several over the course of writing this review...and anytime that happens, it's a good sign. There's definitely a reason why this unfashionable flavor with the silly name has survived through the generations.
If you see these, get a bag. I certainly will.
Sample from company
60 calories per 5 pieces.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
It's not often that I have oatmeal cookies. I have to be honest about that; it is mostly because I am not the universe's biggest oatmeal fan. I don't like it as a breakfast food. I don't care how many flavors they toss on it, it's still a gluey, gray blob better suited for window caulking than for eating. I don't like it even in "dry" breakfast cereals.
But I think if there is any device that has the chance to make anything else taste good, it is the cookie. Well, OK, maybe not liver. I don't think even a cookie version could make liver good. My point is that even though I don't like oatmeal, I want to like oatmeal cookies because...well, because they're cookies.
So how did I like Archway Iced Oatmeal Cookies? Let's find out.
Each cookie is cute disk about the diameter of an Oreo. The surface layer of icing is pretty generous. And the cookies are the crunchy type rather than the soft type.
Probably because of said icing, the initial flavor reminded me a lot of cereal marshmallows. As I have a long and highly documented love of cereal marshmallows, I personally consider this to be a very good thing. I liked that the icing added sweetness, but it didn't make the cookies overly sugary.
The cookie itself has a very oaty (shocking, right?), grainy taste. It actually reminded me a lot of the McVitie's Mini Hobnobs that I loved.
Because of the combo of the Hobnob/marshmallow flavors, I ended up really liking these cookies -- even if oatmeal would normally be the last type of cookies that I reach for. Mr. X (my best friend), however, is an oatmeal cookie lover, although he prefers his without icing. I was nice enough to share some cookies with him, and he said they were good enough that he would buy his own bag. And that is a big mark in these cookies' favor, as he does not as a rule buy junk food.
What can I say? I'd buy a bag of these, too.
Sample from company
Monday, July 26, 2010
Yes, yes, I know -- once again, it seems that Gigi is hitting the kiddie food. Well, hold on just a second! Yes, this is Mac & Cheese, but this version seems to be aimed more at adults. Its (rather annoying) ad campaign even features a cheesed off (Get it? Cheesed Off? Oh, I am so witty today!) Thomas Jefferson showing up at random peoples' homes and getting upset that Mom is taking credit for his recipe...rather than, say, over hyper kids cooing over the cartoon character du jour.
The prep steps are almost completely identical to "normal" mac and cheese: boil and drain the mac, add milk, butter, the mysterious contents of the included foil packets, stir. And in fact you can eat it at that point if you like. But this one also offers an additional option: once you have the mac & cheese made as per above, you can then add the also-included magic bread crumb topping packet (and some grated cheese, not included) and bake the cheesy crust onto the mac.
So how does it taste? Well, it tastes like normal Kraft mac & cheese, with a blandly crunchy topping. It's not bad, but honestly I can take a box of the of the Classic (or the Deluxe, if I am feeling bougie) and make a tastier topping with things already in my kitchen. Heck, if you've got cheese and panko on hand -- and I usually do -- there's really no reason to buy this stuff instead of the regular Kraft mac.
The mac & cheese is as cheesy and Middle American yummy as you could expect a Kraft Mac to be. And that, believe me, is a good thing.
As for the topping...well, it's just meh. It's not bad, but it's bland. The fact that it's crunchy is about the only thing I can really say in its favor. I love the texture that baked mac & cheese acquires -- slightly crunchy but still moist -- but I really think they could have done a much, much better job with this. In the end, the topping not only adds nothing noteworthy to the mac & cheese, but its very blandness ends up detracting from it. And that is not a good thing.
Yes, I know they're trying to keep it "safe" and "familiar." In this case they have erred on the side of caution.
280 calories per 3 ounce serving.
Contains wheat and milk.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I must admit that even as a bartender, I am not exactly the biggest beer expert on the planet. Quite honestly, I know far more about ice cream than I do about beer. And though I may not be able to tell you the difference between the types of hops or the malts and whatnot, I do know what I like to drink. Truthfully, I like my beer to be one of two types: either thick, dark stouts like Guinness; or light, crisp, super easy-to-drink lagers like Corona or Kirin.
Hell, at the moment I am not even supposed to even be drinking. But I sacrifice for you guys. (Really, that is the official excuse I am going to use.) Alright, honestly, when I saw this sixpack on sale at Trader Joe's for $2.99, I couldn't stop myself. Could three dollar beer really be decent? It seemed possible. After all, Trader Joe's does bring us the perfectly serviceable Charles Shaw (AKA "Two Buck Chuck") line of wines for only two dollars a bottle, so I thought it would be practically irresponsible of me not to review their three dollar sixpack of beer.
Trader Joe's actually has not stuck its name on this product. It's made by Minhas Craft Brewery (formerly Joseph Huber), which has been around for quite a while.
Once I had the beer poured into a glass, it struck me that the color looks exactly like apple juice. It did produce a decent head (which collapsed almost immediately), and smelled sort of like the way old empty beer bottles smell. Needless to say, this wasn't exactly encouraging. But, trouper that I am, I persevered.
So how did it taste?
Like any mediocre, cheap American beer. It's not horrible. In fact, it is drinkable if your standards are fairly easy. But it really doesn't seem to have much of a flavor beyond "malty." It calls itself a Pilsner, but -- like many cheap, mediocre American so-called Pilsners -- it resembles a true Pilsner only in the same sorry sense that instant coffee very loosely resembles freshly brewed Starbucks. Now I'm not an enormous Pilsner fan anyway, but Chris is, and he tried some of this with me. His take? If you tried to pass this off as a Pilsner in the Czech Republic (the original home of Pilsner beer) you'd probably start another World War. At the very least, you'd have some seriously pissed off Czechs pelting you with rotten vegetables and yelling things that sound so horrifying that you're glad you don't speak Czech.
Trader Joe's has done an admirable thing for decent, affordable wine with its "Two Buck Chuck" line -- but this attempt at decent, affordable beer seriously misses the mark. If you're a real beer lover, this will probably leave you wondering why you spent the time and the modest amount of money drinking it. (Check out BeerAdvocate's review here.)
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I don't make it to Krispy Kreme all that often. This is mostly because the nearest location to me is not that close -- and secondly, because I sort of like fitting through doorways without having to butter my hips first. But as part of my genius plan to trick my best friend Mr. X into renting me a Gerard Butler movie, I had to pony up something to make sitting through it worthwhile for him. So, off to Krispy Kreme I went. (Incidentally, Mr. X totally got the better end of this deal. He got free Krispy Kremes, and I lost two hours of my life sitting through a truly excruciating movie.)
If product developers out there have learned anything from reading this blog, it is that if you put the word "Lemon" in front of a product, I will try it. In fact, I will probably go out of my way to try it. And when I saw the promo posters for Krispy Kreme's new Lemon Cake doughnut, I knew exactly what I was going to get for myself.
I was good and only got one...and one is pretty much all the Krispy Kreme I can take at a time anyway. Oh, it's not that they aren't great -- but they are so sweet it's all I can take before my blood sugar soars to the point that you could use it to preserve fruit slices.
The Lemon Cake doughnut is a cake doughnut (well, duh!) that is coated lightly in what looks like a simple sugar glaze, and is then drizzled with a sunny yellow lemon zigzag.
So did this doughnut at least turn out better than the Gerard Butler movie?
Looking at the doughnut, it looks an awful lot like the traditional Krispy Kreme glazed -- although the bottom does look sorta cake-like.
It is intensely sweet, but I was expecting that. The problem is that the lemon flavor -- in both the swirlies on top and in the doughnut itself -- is really, really fake. And not even in that perversely tasty way that fake lemon can sometimes be. It was like some generic supermarket brand lemon-flavored cereal mixed with corn syrup. The cake was also greasy and dense (personally, I think Krispy Kreme's biggest strength is they're classic glazed, fresh and hot off the line...but in this case, that didn't matter). I really can't say anything kind about this doughnut. In fact, I couldn't finish it; two bites was all I could stand, and even that was a challenge of willpower. It was a disaster from every possible perspective.
The worst part is that I honestly can't tell you which was worse -- the movie or the doughnut. No, wait, I take that back...the doughnut was definitely worse. Because at least the movie had eye candy.
Ummm...I may have bought an assorted dozen, which retailed for $7.99. Maybe. Just shut up and don't judge me.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Summer weather has finally hit Southern California. Boy, has it hit! We've had high temperatures around 100 for about a week now, and a couple days ago it reached 106 degrees F. (For those of you outside the States, that's a hair over 41 C.) And let me tell you something: just because this is reclaimed desert and it's dry heat, that doesn't make it any less oppressive. Air conditioning, IMHO, is the greatest invention since the wheel.
Anyway, one of my favorite warm weather snacks is the frozen juice bar. And the good people at The Power of Fruit were kind enough to send me a stash of their 100% whole frozen fruit bars.
When these guys say pure fruit, they mean it. There are no added colors, preservatives or sweeteners, and each bar is the equivalent of half a day's serving of fruit. They sent me three varieties, and I decided to start with the Tropical Fruit bar because my flavor obsession of the moment is pineapple.
The Tropical bar features pineapple, mango and banana. These bars are actually old school stickless tubes, the kind you squeeze out of their plastic wrappers.
What I liked best about the bar/tube is that you can actually see the chunks of fruit. I also liked that the fruit was in such big pieces that it was easy to tell which was pineapple and which was mango. The banana chunks were less distinct, and seemed to act sort of like a binder to hold it all together. The flavors of all of the fruits were really bright and fresh.
Because it's a plastic-wrapped tube, you push your portion up so there's minimal drip. Texture-wise, this is what kind of threw me: As I said, everything is in what looks like decent-sized chunks. And that's what it feels like too. So it wasn't what you'd think of as a Popsicle. It was more like you'd made a fruit mash yourself and frozen it solid -- not a texture I am used to, but which I guess is the whole idea, and it's a good one.
All told, it's a really refreshing treat! I'm looking forward to tasting the others.
Sample from company
30 calories per bar.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It is possible that I eat far more macaroni and cheese than any childless adult my age should. But I really love the stuff. I also really love grilled cheese (yes, as "sophisticated" as I like to deem my taste buds, sometimes my inner five-year-old just wants to get her way). And wouldn't you know it -- Kraft has managed to combine those two loves into one cheesy dinner. We're off to a good start already!
Much like Kraft's Deluxe line, this version also features a different pasta than the traditional elbows included in the classic box. This one has little tubes. I am an elbow purist as a rule, but tubes are a fun shape.
You make this version just as you do the classic; i.e., you simply boil and drain the macaroni, add milk and a little butter, then stir in the contents of the powdered cheese packet. The resulting sauce is a little thicker than the classic version -- but I like that in my Mac & Cheese, so no complaints there.
The flavor is supposed to be grilled cheese, as in grilled cheese sandwiches. Honestly, I can't say I would have put two and two together without the box telling me what it's intended to taste like. So what do I think it tastes like? I think it tastes like the classic, only sharper. The cheese is more "dry"-- and I mean that in a good way. It's like they added a really strong, hard cheese to the mix.
I think this version would be really good baked, with something nice and crusty on the top.
Overall, I really liked this. I can see kids not noticing that there's much different. But I think it would appeal to the adults who are eating it, regardless of whether it's because they like Mac & Cheese on their own, or whether they're eating it simply because the kids are.
As for me, I will definitely eat this again!
Sample from company
310 calories per 3 ounce serving.
Contains milk and wheat.
Monday, July 12, 2010
There is a Chipotle Mexican Grill within walking distance of my front door. Despite this fact, I have been there a total of three times in the last nine years. It's not that I really have anything against Chipotle -- it's just that on the occasions when I did eat there, I found the food to be bland. And to be brutally honest, as I live in Southern California, there are just too many far superior Mexican food options to found. (Some of which I could also walk to were I not a lazy bastardess -- I know that's not really a word, I just don't care.)
My favorite place is a mere 10 minute drive from me (with traffic -- and there is always traffic), located in what is euphemistically called the "working class" part of town. The place is packed with customers regardless of the time of day. Local PD is always in the parking lot, and there are always armed guards on site -- and yes, I mean armed as in really carrying guns. I've never seen anything go down in there, but I have watched enough "Gangland" to spot gang tats, and I am sure the police and guards are there for a reason. You will wait in line a minimum of 20 minutes to place your order, and then another 10 at least before your food is ready for pickup. There's no drive-thru, and there is no guaranteeing that the person taking your order will speak English, so you'd better know basic Spanish or bring a friend who does. So why go through all of that? Because if there is such a thing as Heaven on Earth, I am pretty sure it's smothered in their red sauce and served between warm corn tortillas. And I have often braved the above described conditions to get their carne asada tacos at 1:00 A.M. because they are just that good.
But lately Gigi has not been physically at her best, and sometimes I am just not up to the rigors required to get my ethereal Mexican treats. And this is where Chipotle comes in: I wanted something Mexican, and I have a friend who likes to tease me that I am a picky eater (does he even read this blog?!) and he is a big fan of Chipotle's Barbacoa Burrito. So I tossed caution to the wind and said why not. Rather than going to my beloved taco heaven, I went to the distinctly less celestial Chipotle.
How did it work out for me?
Well, I will give Chipotle points for a couple things:
1. In a world where many fast food joints have about 400 offerings -- most of which they should never even attempt -- Chipotle keeps the menu pretty bare-bones and simple. I think that for the most part this is the way to go. Do a select set of items and do them well, instead of 10 good items and 390 mediocre ones. The question for this review is, did Chipotle do it well?
2. The burritos are HUGE. Take a look at the pictures here -- that's not a mere saucer or salad plate my burrito is sitting on; it's a 10-inch dinner plate. I have no idea how much it weighs, but it is big enough that biting into it if you have a small mouth is nearly impossible, and attempting to anyway makes for a huge mess. I couldn't finish even half of it at a sitting. (Of course, re-wrapped and re-heated, it did make for a nice snack later.)
You get to choose what fillings go into your burrito, so here's what I had put in mine:
Barbacoa beef (which is shredded beef that is spiced with things like adobo and cumin, garlic, etc.)
Let's be honest, there is not much to say about pinto beans and sour cream. Mind, I have had some home cooked pintos that I would sell my brother for (seriously). But these are just...well, they're just beans, not bad, not great, just kinda there.
The guacamole: I know the website talks about how it's hand mashed and seasoned until it's "silky, sexy and delicious" (that is a direct quote), but frankly it tasted simply like salty, mashed avocado. And I can live with that.
The cheese...well, it's gringo cheese. If you were hoping for queso fresco...um, well...sorry...but it's shredded Monterrey Jack. Again it's not bad, it just is.
The cilantro-lime rice is simply steamed white rice with a squirt of lime juice and some cilantro mixed in. I'll give them points for it not being sticky or starchy. But again, it's generic white rice, and even with the citrus and cilantro it's kinda bland. I really can't say much else one way or the other.
The barbacoa beef: This is the one thing I really liked. The meat is very lean and super tender. I like my spicy food to be spicy, and while on my personal 1-to-11 heat scale this rates about a 3, I can understand how those with less spice tolerance would place it at a 7 or maybe higher. It at least made the rest of the perfectly serviceable but otherwise boring ingredients seem a bit more zippy.
Would I go out of my way to have this again? Honestly, as long as my "taco heaven" is open, I can't say that I would. It's not that any of the ingredients are bad; it's just that the meal as a whole -- even being helped by the barbacoa -- is a little too bland for me to get excited about.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
980 per burrito...roughly. That's based on the ingredient information on the official website, and assumes the maker used company-perfect portioning of ingredients.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I first read about Heritage Dr. Pepper back in January when Steve over at Bev Review reviewed it (click the link to check out his take). Sadly, that version never made its way out to my neck of the desert, because Heritage Dr. Pepper was limited to areas where Dr. Pepper is bottled under license by Pepsi.
But now, for those of us living in places where Coca-Cola manufactures Dr. Pepper, it's our turn to gloat...because just in time for the Dr. Pepper's 125th birthday, we are being treated to some old school Dr. Pepper made with -- as the packaging loudly and proudly proclaims -- real sugar instead of the dreaded HFCS. And I found twelve packs for sale at my local Vons supermarket, so of course I had to pick one up.
The exterior packing is all the same, but inside you have the chance at getting one of six different vintage Dr. Pepper can designs (check out Steve's latest post here to see them all).
Unlike Coke and Pepsi, which were staples in my house as a kid, neither of my parents were Dr. Pepper fans, so we seldom had it at home. In fact, if I ever even had a Dr. Pepper back in its pre-HFCS days, I have no memory of it. Even as an adult I rarely drink it. And when I do drink soda for non-review purposes, I drink diet. My brother, on the other hand, loves Dr. Pepper and always has some in his fridge -- so I snagged one of his, solely so that I would have something to compare the "Real Sugar" version to. (I would normally never dream of snatching one of my brother's cold sodas. No, not me. Seriously.)
So how is it?
Well, just as with standard Dr. Pepper, the flavor is almost undefinable. It's something like cherry cola -- but not, as there are also some root beer notes. I also noticed that without the syrupy sting the HFCS gives to the "normal" version, more of the fruit notes come out. Berries in particular...but what berry? Is it raspberry? Blackberry? Maybe even strawberry? Beyond simply "berry," I don't know what to tell you, but it's there. Along with maybe a hint of vanilla and possibly even chocolate.
It's not that it tastes radically different from its "normal" counterpart. It just tastes...well, I guess cleaner is a good word. It is also much less strongly carbonated; and I think the fact that it's flatter lets you get more flavor out of it, as well.
This is, not surprisingly, a limited edition product. So if you're a fan and you see it somewhere, buy it and stock up now. I can't say I'll be hoarding this the way I hoard the Kosher for Passover Coke (aka Coke made with real sugar), because I am just not that big of a Dr. Pepper fan -- but I did vastly prefer this version to the normal one.
And this leads me to leave a parting plea to Coca-Cola: PLEASE, how about a real sugar version of Coke Classic? How many times do you have to let Pepsi pants you guys on this issue? Now if you'll excuse me, I have talked about this so much that I have to go hunt down down a bottle of Mexican Coke...which is rather conveniently, but sadly not cheaply, available at my local WalMart, to get a fix. (Yes, Coke made in Mexico still has sugar in it.)
$5.99 for a package of 12 cans.
150 calories per can.
Each can contains 41 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.