Friday, March 18, 2011

Jala Vanilla Pomegranate Swirl Bar

I happen to really like yogurt. I like most styles, I like it in smoothies or those yogurt drinks, and it goes without saying that I like it frozen. So, being the spoiled brat that I am, my mother -- knowing that I like both vanilla frozen yogurt and pomegranate -- got me this box of bars.

I have never seen Jala local to me at home (as I write this I am in Atlanta), but according to their website, each bar has only 110 calories, contains antioxidants and probiotics, is low fat and might make me less grouchy... OK, it doesn't claim that last part, but my mother was hoping.

Anyway, so I have this rather generously sized bar in front of me (I am kind of a size queen with my frozen goodies) and so far, so good. It's a snowy white and the pomegranate swirl in the center adds a nice esthetic touch. I let it soften a bit before trying it.

And, well...honestly, I was kinda underwhelmed. It's not that the bar tasted bad -- it's just that it really didn't taste of much at all. It was as if I tried really really hard, I could kinda maybe sorta pick up a hint of vanilla, but the main flavor was simply "cold." The pomegranate swirl was somewhat pleasant, but it tasted more like pom-flavored syrup than the actual fruit -- and looking at the ingredient list for the swirl confirmed that pom-flavored syrup is pretty much what it was.

The texture was reasonably smooth but a little grainy. But that seems to be the typical way of the yogurt bar, so I would place the Jala bar at about average on texture.

I really wanted to like the bar, and it's not that I disliked it -- I just felt like I'd eaten 110 calories of "cold air" flavored stuff. But I would love to give their Lemon Sweet Tea Swirl flavor a go, so I will defiantly be giving Jala a second chance. This one, however, was a big disappointment.

Found in my mother's freezer, where it will probably remain.

110 calories per bar

Contains milk and soy. Processed in a facility that uses tree nuts & peanuts.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Snickers: Peanut Butter Squared

This is one of those cases where I have been woefully slow on the uptake getting to my review. I've been dying to try these since Cybele got the first scoop on them on Candy Blog back in July, and once I heard they could be found "in the wild" I proceeded to drive my mother insane scouring every store we went to for weeks until they showed up at CVS.

And I don't normally do this, but I love the commercial for them so much I have to share it:

I will grant you it is completely possible that some of my glee with that ad comes from the fact that I have a close family member named Steve, and it is safe to say there have been occasions when feeding each other to sharks sounded like a good idea.

Snickers Peanut Butter Squared comes in both the "fun size" bags and the bar version. I got my hand on a bar. In a departure from the normal single bar, the Peanut Butter Squared is broken up into two generously sized squares. I like it; it's cute, and if I feel like sharing or saving the second piece, this makes it super easy. I realize I could achieve the same thing by just getting the "fun size" bag to start with -- but admittedly if it is something that I end up really liking, I find it harder to control my personal portion because it makes it so easy to tell yourself "just one more..."

The bar is enrobed in the classic Snickers milk chocolate. Let's face it -- if you have ever had a single American Mars candy bar, you have had the smooth, slightly sweet milk chocolate that's on this bar. There's nothing even remotely noteworthy about it.

What makes this bar different is everything else. It has a much thinner layer of nougat. That's my favorite part of the classic bar, but then again, they had to make room for the peanut butter somewhere.

The peanut butter takes up the bulk of the filling. It's a smooth, creamy style peanut butter. There's not much to say about it except that it's on the salty side. I couldn't tell if that was from the peanut butter itself or the actual peanuts in the bar.

Speaking of the peanuts, while they were crunchy and fresh, there didn't seem to be as many of them as there are in a comparable portion of a normal Snickers. The caramel is also nothing to write home about. It's not bad; it's just the same stuff that's found on all the other Snickers.

In the end it's tasty, and I like it enough to scarf it down, but I really missed the nougat layer. It's certainly not my favorite variation of the Snickers bar. (I think that would be the Almond Snickers, although Snickers Dark is up there too).

Rod also reviewed it, so check out his opinion here.



250 Calories per pack (2 squares)

Contains peanuts and soy. May contain almonds.


Friday, March 11, 2011

365: Cherry Vanilla Creme Soda

I admit that I tend to not go too far off the mainstream, well-beaten path for soda that I drink in my normal day to day life. This is mostly because, apart from review purposes, I just don't drink much soda to start with -- and when I do, I have two staples that I prefer not to stray from.

That said, I occasionally like a little variety tossed in. And when I can actually get to a Whole Foods, I really like this particular soda.

365 is Whole Foods' house brand, and they make pretty much everything you can think of. I first tried the Cherry Vanilla Creme because I was hoping that it would taste like the Hansen's Cherry Vanilla Creme soda. There are very few companies out there that are on my banned list and sadly, Hansen's is one of them. But I will be honest here: I really liked and still miss drinking their Cherry Vanilla Creme. I realize that Whole Foods does not actually produce the soda themselves, and that Hansen's very well could be making this product for them under contract, but really...there is only so far I can go, and dammit, I want my freaking soda!

Okay, before I start to sound too much like Charlie Sheen, how did the soda actually taste?

Really good, actually! The balance is heavy on the cherry side, with the vanilla rounding out the aftertaste. The cherry tastes sort of like a cross between maraschino cherries and a Luden's cough drop -- but the vanilla keeps it from picking up that medicinal aftertaste that cherry flavored items lean towards.

The vanilla really is more of an aftertaste then a full partner. But I think that works well in this case. I am a fan of cream (or "creme") soda in general, so it is kind of hard for vanilla to go wrong for me. I wouldn't mind if the vanilla were stronger, but it is so good that I am happy with it just as is.

The carbonation is on the low side. But we all know I prefer my soda gently bubbly (which sounds prettier than saying "flat"), so again, this is a selling point for me.

And the extra cherry on top of everything else is that the drink is sweetened with real cane sugar! Yes, this does push it into the realm of full-calorie soda (I am a diet soda drinker as a rule) but if you are going to go with full-calorie soda, real sugar is the way! It manages to be sweet but not too sweet -- and because it's real sugar, there is no cloying HFCS aftertaste.

I love this soda. I even like the spare look of the can. It's plain and clean, it's not flashy, and it doesn't need to be because the insides are so good!

One of my favorite soda treats. If there's a Whole Foods near you, do not miss this one.

Whole Foods

$2.99 a six pack

180 calories per can (12 fluid ounces)

Sodium free, caffeine free, preservative free, real cane sugar!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011 Vanilla

Skyr? What the hell is skyr?

Well, I first heard of skyr on an early episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern where Andrew was in Iceland, and decided that should I ever find it "in the wild" here in the United States, it was something I was going to have to try. It just sounded that good.

If you've never heard of skyr -- and unless you are a seriously hardcore Björk fan, or you've watched every Travel Channel piece on Iceland where the host vomits after sampling locally made hákarl, you probably haven't -- no worries, Gigi is here to explain it to you. Skyr is a dairy product that, while it outwardly resembles a super-thick yogurt (like Turkish yogurt), is actually a form of soft cheese. My understanding, prior to actually seeing it, was that texture-wise it would be like a cross between Greek yogurt and cream cheese. It can be flavored with various fruits mixed in, as yogurt often is. In Iceland the most popular variety is unflavored, although it is traditionally served topped with fresh cream and sugar.

Also, and equally appealing, is the fact that Icelandic livestock is raised the old school way, grazed naturally on the grasslands without the use of growth hormones, chemical feeds, and other nasty stuff. Obviously the milk produced by these animals is of a quality you probably won't find anywhere in the United States (unless maybe there's an Amish dairy near you), so how could the skyr made from that milk not be good? I'm telling you, it just sounded better and better. But would I ever come across any?

Yes! As luck would have it, the branch of Whole Foods on Manhattan's Upper West Side happens to carry a commercially imported version. While I did not find the plain variety on the shelf (they do carry it, but were sold out) they did have a vanilla flavored -- which is as close as I could get.

So how was it?

Well, the contents of the little tub looked exactly like (the far more commonly available United States) Greek yogurt. The package gave no indication that I should do anything to the product other than to give it a good stir prior to that was all I did to it.

The texture reminded me of a cross between Greek yogurt and sour cream. Basically not as thick or as thin as either; sort of in the redheaded stepchild middle ground. And once I actually tried it, that was pretty much the perfect description of the mouth feel as well. It had a nice aroma -- tangy, yet clearly vanilla.

But how did it taste? I know I keep going back to Greek yogurt, but that really is the easiest comparison. It was very much like vanilla Greek yogurt, but less acidic. It's sweeter than Greek yogurt, though not as sweet as a typical American yogurt. There's also another flavor note that I can't exactly place. Sort of like a soft cheese -- perhaps mascarpone, or maybe if I was really stretching it, I could say it reminds me of the aftertaste of cream cheese. But even that doesn't exactly pin it down. It's not a bad taste at all, just a tricky one to identify.

I would have liked to try it served in the traditional way, but I didn't have any cream or sugar on hand to mix in, so I had to skip that. But I did have some sweetener (yeah, my favored Splenda), so I also tried adding a packet to see how that changed the flavor. I'm not sure that this version actually needed either addition, but it was still fun to try. I will admit I did like it a little better with the added sweetness. Yes, it was good straight from the tub, but I think my sweet tooth is taking over a little. I can also tell you that the added sweetness pushed the flavor I couldn't quite nail a lot closer to that of cream cheese.

All in all, I'd like to see skyr gain wider availability in the United States. It's tasty, and for me it's a happy medium for when I don't want something as sweet as a mass market American yogurt, yet at the same time I'm not in the mood for something as tangy as Greek. This really bridged the gap between the two perfectly.

If you're an open-minded yogurt fan and you come across this on the shelf, it should not be missed!

Whole Foods


150 calories per 6 ounce serving

Fat free


Saturday, March 5, 2011

MASH: Grapefruit Citrus Zing

Yes, I love New York. I think everyone who reads this blog knows that very well. But one of the few things that I hate about New York is that sooner or later, small neighborhood stores that I have loved going to, visit after visit, almost always end up changing from cute little independent local spots to just another national chain outlet that I can easily go to at home.

That's sort of what happened to my favorite little bodega (mini-mart to the rest of us). Honestly, the service had been bad, the prices were kind of high, and the food tended to be out of code...but what they did have going for them had been the Universe's biggest selection of Snapple (as well as many other soft drinks, both popular and obscure). I could always find something interesting there. Well, times have changed since my last visit, and the location is now a rather generic cafe/sandwich place. The sandwiches aren't bad and the staff is a heck of a lot nicer, so it's not a complete loss. But sadly gone is the amazing drink selection.

They did, however, have the MASH line, which I have never seen before.

MASH, according to the bottle blurb, is meant for everyone. It's not a soda nor is it 100% juice. And it also boasts of being a low calorie option. Yeah, we are going to get to all of that in a second...

Anyway, I happen to like grapefruit juice -- or even grapefruit soda -- so I thought I would start there.

The drink is only very lightly carbonated, which I really liked. It's pretty much a known fact to long time readers, but I will repeat myself: I am one of those people who like my carbonated beverages on the slightly flat side, so whenever something is already going easy on the bubbles that works for me.

The grapefruit flavor comes across as very natural. It's got just a slight bitter edge with no aftertaste. If you've ever eaten a really ripe, fresh pink grapefruit and sprinkled it with sugar, and then drank the juice that stays in the rind...well it tasted pretty close to that. It is a sweetened drink ,but it uses sucralose (AKA Splenda) as the sweetener rather than HFSC or even regular sugar. Personally, I can live with that, as I am one of those people that don't mind or notice the taste of Splenda/sucralose (it's my sweetener of choice for coffee, actually).

I liked the body of it. It wasn't as thick and filling as a juice, and yet it was as sweet and as bubbly as a (somewhat flat) soda. I actually went through several of these over the course of my stay. New favorite grapefruit beverage, hands down!

Remember I said we could get back to a couple things that bothered me? Well, here goes: The first thing being that the label says it's not soda, but it's not 100% juice either. Actually, the label calls it a "water drink." Well, a water drink that uses sparkling water (AKA carbonated water...gee, kinda like SODA!). Interesting choice of words there. While I certainly wouldn't exactly call it a soda, considering that it contains only one per cent actual juice, I think they were creatively dressing the proportions. After all, soda as a soft drink choice is starting to go down the same dark, scary back alley that trans-fats and other delicious but questionably beneficial items go to flash their wares while hiding from the fuzz.

This also extends to the calorie count. I understand that at the moment there is a lot of pressure on manufacturers to make everything as low-cal as possible (because we certainly can't expect people to just, ya know, be responsible for their own portion control) and the bottle boasts that the drink is a mere 40 calories a serving! Problem is, the bottle is 20 ounces, and the serving is considered to be 8 there are 2.5 servings per bottle. Now, really -- how many people are going to actually pour out the precise 8 ounce serving? Yes, I realize a small percentage will. But let's be honest; most people are just downing the entire bottle. Would it really be that horrible a sin to list the true calorie count of 100 calories for the entire bottle? 100 calories as to compared to your average soft drink is still pretty damn good!

I'm not basing the rating on anything other than the flavor -- but clearly I am annoyed by the trend of creatively wording the blurb and manipulating the serving size to keep the food police happy. A pox upon both or however many houses they have!

94 Corner Cafe (94th & Broadway, New York City)


40 Calories per 8 oz. (or 100 for the entire bottle)

Kosher, sweetened with sucralose


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Peanut Butter & Co: The Heat Is On Peanut Butter

One of the upsides of having a food review blog is that friends will often come up with items that they want to see me review. And one of the downsides of having a food review blog is that friends will often come up with items that they want to see me review. No, that's not a typo: that is the double-edged sword that is my life.

Seriously! Sometimes my friends come up with stuff that makes me wonder if they are trying to turn me into their own personal Andrew Zimmern (even the ones who have no idea who Andrew Zimmern is). I believe they see some outrageous items and think to themselves, "Oho, there is just no way Gigi would ever turn down the chance to review a choice delicacy like dill pickle flavored, chocolate covered, durian stuffed Madagascar hissing cockroaches!" (OK, to be fair, I made that up...and if such a product exists, I am happy in my ignorance of it and ask only that it A: Not be brought to my attention, and B: That I not be offered samples.) My whole point is that sometimes I feel like people give me things based on an elementary school gross-out dare.

My sister-from-another-mother, however, is an exception to that rule. Net and I are so physically similar that you could in fact mistake us for sisters -- well, first cousins at the very least -- and she always finds the greatest snack stuff for me to try. (She is completely to blame for my obsession with Herr's Puff'n Corn.) So when she said she had something new for me I was very excited.

And she did not disappoint!

I have been wanting to go to the Peanut Butter & Co shop since I saw them on the Food Network at least ten years ago. Really, how could a peanut butter lover not want to go to a shop that completely revolves around peanut butter? Well, despite many visits to my beloved New York City I have not made it to the shop once. Then, like magic, the company's peanut butter started turning up in stores...and I still somehow never got my hands on any. Net, however, did -- and when she saw a jar of The Heat Is On flavor she picked it up for me. (For the record, she swears by their Dark Chocolate Dream.)

The Heat Is On, as you may have guessed, is a spicy peanut butter -- and lest you doubt that it's spicy, the monkey on the label is holding a little pitchfork. Monkeys would not lie to us.

Even before opening the jar, you can tell that there is going to be a lot going on flavorwise, just by looking at the peanut butter. It's darker than your normal peanut butter; the color being more of a burnt orange than a tan. The butter is also studded with various dots and flecks of spices.

When you open the jar the scent is that of strongly roasted peanuts. You can tell there's an extra something going on, but it's hard to pin down exactly what else it is that you're smelling besides the nuts.

According to the label you don't have to stir the peanut butter, but I did notice some oily buildup on the top -- and I thought that the texture was a bit better for giving it a swirl. The texture is smooth but very thick, though not thick in the sticky manner of any of the mass market brands of choice. There is a slight graininess (though it is not chunky) that I think comes from a combination of the spices and the actual peanuts themselves. I really liked the texture.

The taste -- forgetting the spices for just a second and concentrating on the base -- reminded me of super fresh, just-roasted peanuts. Slightly salty and completely missing the sweetness that my favorite mass market brand has.

Now for the spices! It's going to be hard to go back to plain peanut butter after having spicy (and I may not, actually). The heat is just enough to give you a kick and warm your mouth up, but not enough to have people who aren't as big a fan of heat as I am searching for something to cool off with. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of heat for people who are not chiliheads, I would put it at about a 5 or 6 if you are really sensitive.

The spicing is a mix of chili powder, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper and paprika. (And while it's not listed on the label, I have to wonder if there's not a pinch of garlic in there as well.) To be really lazy, the easiest way I can describe the flavor is to tell you to imagine a peanut butter made with a bag of those "hot" flavored peanuts found at gas stations and mini marts. As someone who has been known to snarf those bags down embarrassingly fast, it stands to reason that I'd love a peanut butter version.

What can I say? I just loved this peanut butter. I have been eating it straight from the jar, but I know it would make great sandwiches or sauces/dressings. Heck, I want to try to make cookies with it! No, I'm not kidding. It's really that damned good.

Thank you, Netters!


Gift from my friend

$6.00 on the company website

190 calories per 2 tbsp

Gluten free, certified vegan, HFCS free. Contains peanuts (duh)