Sunday, February 28, 2010
Lavender is one of those flavors that can be really tricky to pull off. Too much, and it's like drinking (or eating) fabric softener. Too little, and it tastes vaguely musty to me. But when it's done right it's clean and refreshing, and shouldn't remind you of doing body shots off the Snuggle Bear (which, if numerous internet rumors are true, is voiced by Mickey Dolenz, formerly of The Monkees...which seems somehow tragic. This is not listed in Mickey's official website or IMDB credits, so it may just be urban legend).
So how did the DRY soda lavender flavor come off?
In terms of scent, the lavender is very subtle. I took that as a good sign. You can tell what it is, but it doesn't come off like air freshener or an old lady's purse.
What I have liked about all the DRY sodas I've tried so far is that the carbonation is just bubbly enough to give a little zap, and the flavor seems to come more as an aftertaste than something that hits you at first sip. That may not sound like a good thing, but it really is. The subtlety is fascinating.
This flavor is no exception. It almost tastes like semi-flat lemon-lime soda at first...and then, just as you're beginning to think "this is boring as hell," a sweet herbal taste kicks in and changes everything. Try to imagine drinking a lavender lollipop. (Again, one of those things that sounds sort of wrong but tastes really good.) It was super easy to guzzle this...which I'm sure is not the delicate, ladylike image that DRY might have been going for.
DRY is meant to be sipped on its own or used as a mixer. So once again, being the giver that I am, I forced myself to make a little cocktail of vodka and the DRY lavender. Really, is there no end to the lengths I will go to for you guys?
Just as with the other DRY sodas I have sampled, it is even better with a little spike. While the lavender flavor seems to appear as an aftertaste with the soda alone, the admixture of vodka really brings out the floral notes. I think this could be a really great cocktail done with a sugared rim and a little pineapple juice.
Score another win for DRY.
Sample from company
70 calories per 12-ounce bottle.
Fat free, sodium free.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
First, my thanks to Cinabar over at Foodstuff Finds. She and I have recently done a candy exchange, and this is the first in the plethora of great British candy she sent me. I started with this item because I simply do not get enough Hotel Chocolat in my day-to-day life...and Jim is always sending me into chocolate envy with his.
This four piece collection has some beautiful filled pieces.
I'll start with the Chocolate Brownie:
The outside of this cube is studded with little brownie crumbs. The center creme looks smooth -- except there are little tiny brownie crumbs mixed in. The smell is sweet and milky. Biting into the piece, it's surprisingly crunchy...that was a nice surprise. It didn't remind me much of brownie in any way, but it has a really nice and mellow milk chocolate flavor. And the crunchies mixed in with the super-smooth center is fabulous.
Next, the Amarena Cherry suspended in Amaretto Buttercream:
I had to Google "Amarena Cherry" to find out if it was something special. And as best I can tell, it is like a really upscale Maraschino cherry. Basically, if the two were different branches of the Griswold family tree, the Maraschinos might be like Cousin Eddie emptying his septic tank into your yard, while the Amarenas are more like Clark's uppity mother-in-law wondering what the hell Ellen ever saw in him (and possibly why her grandkids looked different every time we saw them).
The smell of this piece reminded me a lot of a cherry brandy. Rich, and just a little boozy. The dark chocolate outer shell is deep and biter. It's like coffee, only not a strong mocha. The bitterness of the chocolate is perfect because the buttercream center is very sweet. With a milder, milky chocolate it would have been too sweet overall, but the dark chocolate really adds to the appeal.
Sadly, I have a love/hate relationship with the buttercream filling. Texture-wise, it is the most incredibly smooth buttercream I have ever had. There is no sugary, graininess to it. It's silky smooth enough that The Zohan might give up hummus for it. The only issue is that the flavor -- though supposed to be Amaretto -- reminded me of cheap cherry cough syrup. And it's really hard to come back from cheap cherry cough syrup.
The inner cherry was quite small -- about the size of a plump blueberry -- and oddly, while the creme around it made me think of cold medicine, the cherry itself didn't. It was tart and juicy with just a tinge of sweetness. I could eat these by the handful.
Next, the Butterscotch Ganache with Shortbread Biscuit:
This was a cute candy. I loved how the tiny little biscuit sat atop the molded chocolate cup. I have noticed that "butterscotch" and "caramel" can sometimes be interchangeable in British candy. Here in the US, the flavor we expect of butterscotch is like that of butterscotch puddings or Werther's candy. But sometimes what is described on a UK product as butterscocth flavored is more like what we would call caramel flavored here. In the strictest sense, butterscotch is a basically caramel that's made with brown sugar and butter in place of "plain" white sugar and butter.
The butterscotch in this piece was the Werther's type -- only it was whipped into an almost fluid state. Again, high praise for the texture. The butterscotch has a very brown sugar taste to it. It's paired with dark chocolate. The shortbread wafer adds some crunch but no real flavor. The basic flavor is good -- it is just overwhelmingly, throat-burningly sweet. As much as I liked the taste, I couldn't finish the piece.
Finally, the Praline with Crispy Pancake:
This is the one I was most looking forward to. I love pralines (Trader Joe's sells rather large tubs of them, and they are addictive) and was intrigued by the "crispy pancake." When we here in the U.S. think of pancakes, we think about breakfast items -- large, fluffy round things, (hopefully) buttered and drizzled with syrup. However, in Hotel's world, "pancake" seems to refer to thin layers of biscuits (or sometimes wafers). I think I like Hotel's version better.
They really nailed this one. It is like the best sugared pecan you will ever have in your life, coupled with milk chocolate. As best I can tell, the pancake is represented by little crunchy bits. I had been expecting more of a wafer, but this worked really well. There are no actual nuts bits in the piece, which I liked.
Overall, even the pieces I didn't like as much as the praline were pretty good (Well, minus the cough syrup part). Hotel's chocolate -- both the dark and the milk -- is rich and has a fantastic melt. It's just really good all the way around.
Yeah, these were good. Really, really good.
Gift from Cinabar of Foodstuff Finds.
Contains: Soy, nuts, gluten, sulphites, eggs. Suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans).
Thursday, February 25, 2010
It may have been five years of living in Georgia that did it...but I just love me some red velvet cake, y'all. And while red velvet cake has always been a regional favorite in the Deep South, it seems to have become more popular in other places over the last couple of years. It's even appearing in my Southern California supermarket bakery, as well as in a cupcake version made by Little Debbie. (I would take credit for spreading the word, but I think Paula Deen had more to do with it than I did.)
In case you're unfamiliar, red velvet cake is always colored bright red. Kinda like they rendered down some of Elmo's lesser-known kin into a food coloring base. The flavor is often called a cross between a chocolate and a yellow cake. But all of the best ones that I have had -- in terms of both texture and flavor -- have been more like a lightly cocoa-flavored version of a pound cake. Really dense, rich and buttery. The cake version is always topped with a cream cheese frosting. And do I really have to say more than cream cheese frosting?!
Well, when I saw this flavor I simply had to try it...although, to be honest, I have yet to find a chocolate yogurt I have really liked. Something about chocolate and yogurt just doesn't seem to work for me (though I love chocolate frozen yogurt, so figure that one out).
So how did it taste?
Well, first, let's talk about how it looked. I wasn't expecting the bright rendered-Elmo-relative red of an actual slice of red velvet cake. This shade, however, is a very familiar pink. Familiar as in Pepto-Bismol pink. Or perhaps aging Barbie pink would be a better way to put it.
The flavor, thankfully, is far and away better than the color. The best way I can describe it is to tell you it's like raw birthday cake batter mixed into yogurt, with just a little touch of chocolate. Maybe that doesn't sound like it would be good...but it sure is!
It has a strong, buttery yellow cake taste (hence "birthday cake"). Right after the sweetness of the cake flavor wears off, the tang of the yogurt takes over. It really is the perfect hybrid of flavors. The yogurt tartness keeps the sweetness of the cake flavor from seeming to be too artificial. The sweetness is just enough that it makes you feel like you are having something that is sinful -- even if you're not.
The texture is uniformly smooth. There are no chunks, cake pieces, or swirls of frosting (not that I would have expected them). It is thinner than full fat/calorie yogurt, yet not so thin that it seems more like a dip than a real yogurt.
Whether you are watching your diet or not, this is just damn good yogurt!
110 Calories per 6 ounce container
I love burgers on sourdough, and I love grilled cheese. And I love grilled cheese on sourdough. And since we all know it's physically impossible for bacon to do anything but improve whatever it's put on, this burger had to be a winner -- right?
Yeah, actually it is.
The sourdough bread is nicely toasted, but it doesn't have much flavor. Nonetheless it stands up well to all the cheese and grease.
The cheese blend is a mix of Swiss & American. And just in case you still had an artery or two sort of functioning amidst the cheese, there are the meat patties. And the bacon. Oh, and then the whole thing is slathered with mayonnaise. Quadruple bypass for dessert, anyone?
The beef patties are juicy and taste like they were actually grilled.
The bacon...well, it's like instant, ready-made bacon. But bad bacon is still kinda like bad sex. At least you can say you've had it.
Yes, it's a nutritional nightmare...but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't pretty awesome. It actually reminds me of a perfect hybrid of my two favorite Jack In The Box menu items -- the Sourdough Jack and the Ultimate Cheeseburger. (I am sure neither company is going to be happy I said that. But it was meant as a compliment.)
God, I feel so dirty. But I'm still smiling.
1,020. (I know, but this is a sometimes food.)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Way back in July, Cybele reviewed a version of these candies (which were called "Pixie Perfect Gummies"). At the time I had no real desire to eat them -- but I did think that her pictures made them look quite pretty.
But there I was at WalMart yesterday, rifling through the candy, when I noticed the box of Gummy Flowers. (Its package photos still do not look as good as Cybele's). I am not sure if this is an entirely different product or simply a redesign of the the one Cybele reviewed. Besides the name being "Gummy Flowers" rather than "Pixie Perfect Gummies," the outer package is not a bag but a movie theater style candy box. It also says that it's a sweet and sour blend. (Although the candy is still in little individual pouches inside said box.) Tinkerbell's Pixie Pals have been banished from the box, and Tink herself leers up in a creepy come-hitherish way that makes me want to make sure Chris Hansen isn't hiding somewhere, just waiting to ask me to take a seat. Seriously, I have a feeling that this was drawn during a phase in Tink's life where she felt like she had to compete with some of the other wannabe Disney starlets; girls who hadn't quite mastered the concept of why it's a bad idea to text naked pictures of yourself...unless you want it to be mentioned on TMZ repeatedly until the end of time...or the end of your career...whichever should come first. (Yes, I am expecting email from Disney's lawyers in three...two...one...) No, folks, that wasn't even the hook that made me part with my dollar to buy the box.
No, that came when I read the back of said box and saw the proclamation that they were "Made Responsibly In China." Well, how could I resist that? Yeah...
In case you missed it, China has been in the news a lot over the last few years for having lead in candy, and all sorts of dire health warnings and recalls issued for food items manufactured there. There is so much information available on this topic that I wouldn't even know where to start linking. Just Google if you're interested. Not to slam an entire country here, but clearly Chinese QA is a concern. (Yes, to be fair, a number of other countries have the same problem.) Looking at this candy as a whole -- from manufacturing location to package to actual candy -- it's clear that Disney makes some interesting choices. (Expecting second email from Disney lawyers...right about...now.) But in any event, these candies were made responsibly -- and it was time for me to enjoy them.
The inner individual packets come with five gummies in each bag. There are three bags to the box. When the box said Sweet & Sour Gummy Candy, I had the impression that the sweet and the sour pieces would be mixed together. In fact, the sours are all sequestered into a mere one out of the three bags. This did sort of make sense -- clearly the candy is aimed at younger kids, and the sour pieces are probably not as popular as the sweet pieces.
There are three flavors, so I am going to do them flavor by flavor, with both the sweet and the sour versions.
In terms of texture, the candies -- while they are somewhat soft and pliable -- are simultaneously chewy to the point that you could call them tough. The candies are fairly large (almost an inch and a half across), and I wonder how hard a time small children would have chewing them or biting off pieces.
The only difference the sour pieces have from the sweet pieces is the dusting of sugar. It add a little crunch and makes the candy a little scratchy on the tongue.
Anyway, on to the flavors...
PINK: Watermelon. Although the box art showed one of the round flowers as being a rather vibrant purple, my box only contained pink flowers. Granted, some were darker (very, very slightly) than others, but I suspect that is just a fluke of the tinting rather than on purpose.
Have you ever been using a watermelon-flavored lip balm and gotten a chunk in your mouth? It's like that. Waxy, with a very chemical fake watermelon taste. There is also a bitter aftertaste that I am assuming comes from the dye...or Tinkerbell's tears of shame, whichever.
I like sour candy. I like sour watermelon. I do not like this sour watermelon candy. I can tell you exactly what they taste like: sour lawn clippings. Yeah, that sounds harsh, but I swear to you it tastes like blades of grass (or wheat grass) covered in sugar and citric acid. Blecch.
BLUE: Blue Raspberry. The blue pieces were nicely molded into little butterflies.
This is kind of like a generic blue slushie. It's raspberry flavor in the fakest possible way -- but it's so fake that it's kinda good. The aftertaste is like bad perfume, though.
After the horrific taste of the watermelon sour, I was worried about this one. But it was merely sour. No immediate flavor, just sour. Once you get through the layer of sugar, it tastes just like the sweet version.
GREEN: Green Apple. The green pieces are also molded into flowers.
This is the one I was most worried about, because it just doesn't smell good. It smells the way old gum tastes. I am torn on the flavor, though. On one hand, it is the most clearly artificial of the three -- at its worst moments, it also has that took-a-bite-of-lip-balm flavor that the watermelon has -- only amplified by ten. At its best, which comes about ten seconds into having the piece in your mouth (and ends approximately four seconds later), it does in fact taste like apple juice. But I would rather just drink the juice and cut out the middleman.
Again, just sour. But it does manage to cut through some of the most waxy parts. Actually, this was my favorite of the bunch. For the few seconds that it tastes like apple juice, the sourness is nice with that.
As candy, this ranks pretty low. But I will give them points for being nicely molded, and I can see where they would make good decorations for cakes, etc. (I will give them points for that -- but not a higher rating.)
90 calories per 5 pieces
Fat-free. Contains gelatin.
flixcandy.com. BROWSER WARNING: Site is done entirely in Flash.
I like a good crispy rice bar. There's something about their texture -- even more so than the taste -- that does it for me. I like when you bite into something and it's crunchy, yet smooshy at the same time. (Does that even make sense?)
Q.bel's version consists of two bars that are comprised of layers of chocolate, wafers, then topped with rice and covered in milk chocolate. And the whole thing is all natural. Sounds promising, right?
Each of the two fingers that form the serving are generously sized. The bottom layers of the bar are alternating layers of wafers and chocolate. Sprinkled across the top are grains of puffed rice.
The bar smells sweet -- sort of like chocolate covered Frosted Rice Krispies. I liked the wafer layers a lot. They were crisp and fresh and tasted sort of like a cake-style ice cream cone (yummm...). The puffed rice on the top brings extra crunch, and -- shock of all shocks -- it does in fact taste like cereal. And golly gee, wanna take bets if me and my Seinfeld-like cereal addiction liked it? Of course I liked it!
It was really only the chocolate I that didn't love. Now, don't get me wrong; it's not bad by any stretch. It's just sweeter than I prefer my chocolate. It's very milky and creamy, but it does seem as if "sweet" is the strongest part of the flavor. I have a feeling that I am going to love the dark chocolate version, because I loved the rice and I loved the wafers. I just needed something a bit more bitter to tie it all together.
Sample From Company
180 calories per bar
Made on equipment that may have processed peanuts or tree nuts. Contains wheat, dairy, soy, and eggs.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Artisan chocolate from Sicily, woohoo! Nope, I haven't been to Sicily myself. I actually found this bar in New York City. (Specifically, I found it at Barzini -- a very cool Upper West Side food market. No web site, but here is their Yelp listing.) The deciding factor on getting it was that it was a bergamot flavored bar. I've never seen that before.
Interestingly enough, it seems there are actually two kinds of bergamot. There's a citrus fruit version, which is a type of bitter orange. Then there is also an herbal version that is a member of the mint family. The two are not related.
I have no idea which version is used here. There is only minimal information on the package. And while the company has a website, it is completely in Italian -- even the Google-translated version was not very helpful. Maybe once we taste it we'll know.
I liked the plain "peasant" look to the packaging. It's just brown packing paper and green twine. Nothing fancy, no graphics, only a simple tag. It gave the bar an Old World air. I'd like to say it must be like something my great-grandmother might have eaten back in the old country...but trust me, you DO NOT want to hear about the things my Nana ate (and loved).
The bar has a rough, sort of bloomed look to it. Actually, it doesn't look like a chocolate bar so much as an old, weathered brick. But this is the result of the manufacturing method. The chocolate is cold-pressed, and the sugar that it is sweetened with is added by pressing it into the chocolate rather than by being melted and mixed in. It is very, very basic: the only ingredients listed are cane sugar, cocoa paste, and bergamot. The bar can be eaten as is, or made into a drinking chocolate. And solely because I am a giver, I am going to try it both ways. Let it never be said that I won't go the extra mile for my readers.
This really does taste as I imagine homemade chocolate (i.e., without tempering) would. That's not to say I don't like the taste. It tastes very dark, even though it is only a 45% cocoa chocolate. I think it's because it is so minimally processed that it seems more intense than something made by more modern methods. The chocolate has a grassy taste to it -- is that perhaps the bergamot? If it's not, then I couldn't taste the bergamot at all...and I guess as a bergamot bar, that would make it an epic fail. The sugar that is pressed into the chocolate (rather than melted in) is present in large grains, and it keeps the chocolate from being too bitter. There is no dairy quality to the bar at all -- not surprising, as it apparently doesn't contain any.
The texture is really the interesting part of the bar. It's crumbly and dry, without much of a melt. It's also crunchy -- from the sugar, as best I can tell. It's good for a few bites, but after that it just starts to feel like you're eating chocolate grit. Definitely unexpected, but also kinda...I dunno, weird. And not in a really good way.
As a drink:
To make the drinking chocolate, you mix one square of the chocolate with one cup of hot water or milk, simmering and stirring until melted and well mixed. I made my cup with Lactaid brand whole milk, and I simmered it on the stove until the chocolate was dissolved. It doesn't take long, even on a very low flame. But you do have to stir constantly.
I much preferred this as a drinking chocolate than as a solid. It's still grassy, but it also picks up more of an earthy taste. It becomes much richer and sweeter as well -- that makes sense to me, because it has given the sugar and the chocolate a chance to melt together. But it still didn't wow me. (Possibly because it remains strangely gritty.) I know I am losing foodie cred here, but I still prefer Nestlé's Abuelita.
Honestly, I love the idea of this chocolate. And it's true that this is a most unusual item. It no more resembles a typical mass market chocolate bar than a free-range bison burger grilled over an open campfire on the same Montana ranch where the bison was raised resembles a prefabricated burger from McDonald's. But I can't see going out of my way for this bar. Yeah, it tastes OK, though it's nothing outstanding. Plus, the texture is unpleasant, and I still have no idea where the bergamot was supposed to be.
Nope, I won't be buying this again.
Barzini Market (New York City)
laboratoriodonpuglisi.it. Italian language only.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
All right, everyone salute the great nation of Finland! Any country that can produce something as wonderful as Panda Licorice can only be a force of good in the world. (Yes, I know that we can also thank Finland for Nokia, Linux, Marimekko, Finlandia cheese, and several tasty adult beverages. And yes, all of those things have their merits. I am fully aware of that. But we're talking about Panda Licorice here, people! Panda Licorice!!)
Anyway, I think my love of all things Panda Licorice has been well documented. But I am beginning to feel rather like Bill on Big Love...because much like Bill, I am torn between three loves. I love the regular black licorice (which I guess would be the Barb), and as much as I loved the Cherry (the Nicki), we now have flavor number three: Raspberry! (the Margene). Is it right or even possible to love all three the way I do?
In any event, I do!
The raspberry flavor is sweet and just a little tart. It has a juiciness to it and it tastes very natural. Lying just below the raspberry is the smooth molasses taste I love from classic black Panda. Part of what makes it so good is that it is just the fruit that shines through, since there are no artificial colors used there is no bitter "red" taste.
The texture is soft and just a little chewy (like all Panda licorice). This is one of those products that I love so much, I can't say enough good things about it. Just go get a pouch and thank me afterward.
And because this has become my other obsession -- while you're getting ready to go buy your own pouch, watch this video from Big Love's Bill Paxton's "rock star" days when he was part of a duo called "Martini Ranch." Video should be safe for work (just bikini babes), and was directed by James Cameron! Odd how neither Paxton nor Cameron brags about this...? Hmmmmmn...
(Yes, I know all songs featured on my Panda Licorice reviews are supposed to be in Finnish. But apparently no one has done a Finnish cover of "Reach" yet. C'mon, Finnish musicians, y'all need to step up to the plate!)
Sample from company
130 per 15 pieces (I would like to tell you I have that much self control).
All natural, kosher, suitable for vegetarians and vegans, fat free. Awesome.
InterNatural Foods.com for Panda's American importers. (Or panda.fi for the manufacturer -- it's only in Finnish, but it has some really cute Panda Flash animations.)