REVIEW: Mystery Oreo Cookies

Nabisco seems to have heard my cries that I spend half of my expendable income on new fun snacks and want to gift me and the millions of other junk food fans across the globe with the opportunity to break off $50,000 in their name. The all new Limited Edition Mystery Oreo is on shelves now, and after giving us the chance to submit our own new flavors earlier in the year, the spotlight is now on the company for us to guess theirs.

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The cookies look extra thick, definitely of the Double Stuf variety, and the creme itself is a bit firmer and denser than what I’m used to with the other limited edition’s, most notably the recent Apple Pie, which were incredibly soft and almost melty. The flavor is sharp and sweet with a very citrus-forward profile lead by more lime than lemon, with a touch of orange, and an overall taste that screams Fruity Pebbles.

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The aroma is also extremely reminiscent of Sunday morning’s finest, and anyone who spent some time with the Flintstone’s in their youthful days will recognize it immediately. It’s hard to say definitively if it’s Fruity Pebbles, Froot Loops, Trix or another fruity mishmash breakfast cereal, but Pebbles are my favorite of the bunch and my mind is immediately brought to fond memories of their light airy crunch and pronounced sweetness. If the flavor isn’t specifically Fruity Pebbles I could toss some other guesses towards orange creamsicle, lemon lime, rainbow sherbet, cereal milk, chocolate orange, chocolate covered gummy bear, or dirt and worms – the classic kiddy dessert of chocolate pudding with gummy worms and crushed Oreo bits.

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I have a couple of junk food related regrets in my life, one of which is not buying a lone bag of Cooler Ranch Munchies I saw at a random gas station and haven’t seen since, and the other is not buying Fruity Crisp Oreo’s the one time I saw them. That’s right, the Oreo many deem to be the best limited one of them all, I only saw once, right before going out to dinner, and I didn’t buy them because I figured I could pick them up at home. Nope. Never saw them again, and my heart has been broken ever since. While those Oreo had the golden wafer, I can only assume, but not confirm, that these are essentially that same creme with a chocolate cookie. While it’s kind of unfortunate and lazy that Nabisco went that route instead of trying something new, I can’t deny that these are a solid cookie, albeit a bit odd, and one worth picking up if you like a sweet citrusy blast to go along with your chocolate.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Halo Top’s Pumpkin Pie

A trend in the food world begins to transcend trendiness and become solidified when it grows beyond a core set of styles, flavors, or offerings, and transitions into limited time seasonal versions of their product. Unleashing smaller scale season-based varieties displays confidence in a brand and a trust that consumers will flock to something that may not have as much mass appeal as a standard. Welcome to the upper-echelon of the grocery ice cream game, Halo Top. While many of the company’s most recent flavors have yet to make it to the Bay Area, Halo’s first limited time flavor popped up at Target just to keep my protein hungry basic tastebuds entertained, with Pumpkin Pie.

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As is the case with all high protein light ice cream’s, this stuff freezes hard and needs a good amount of time to temper on the counter, but this one tempered faster than almost every other Halo flavor I’ve had (nearly all of them). Once the ice cream gets appropriately soft it is very impressive how smooth, creamy, and “real” ice cream-like it is. In fact, the texture is so on point that I would have never guessed it to be a light ice cream, as the essence is much truer to the real deal than many gummy slow churned products.

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The flavor is equally impressive, with a very yammy pumpkin-forward profile that tastes closer to actual pumpkin pie filling than most pumpkin ice cream’s on the market. The sweetness is also perfectly on point. It’s sharp and sugary but not so much that it washes away the authentic pumpkin flavor, and is accented nicely by soft hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. As a whole the taste is more of a vegetal vanilla than it is spicy, but there’s enough spice there to keep it interesting and elevate the natural notes of the squash.

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Mix-in-wise this is also one of Halo’s more legit releases, with an impressively ample amount of pie crust throughout the entire pint. The pieces are small but aplenty, with a soft, bready, slightly buttery flavor that 100% register pie crust. The most intriguing part of Halo’s execution here is that nearly every bite tastes like a good forkful of pumpkin pie being equally represented by pumpkin, mellow spice, crust, and creamy vanilla undertones to mimic the role of whipped cream.

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This flavor is not only good for Halo Top or light protein ice creams, but for all pumpkin pie ice creams in general. No, it doesn’t have the rich fatty depth of Graeter’s or Ben & Jerrys, or the big spicy pop of Talenti, but it has an incredibly accurate and delicious pumpkin flavor that nails the nostalgic taste of diggin’ in on Thanksgiving day, and I enjoyed every bite.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Target ($5.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (70g) – 90 cal – 3g fat – 1g sat fat – 40mg cholesterol – 130mg sodium – 3g fiber – 7g sugar – 5g sugar alcohol – 5g protein

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REVIEW: Graeter’s Limited Edition Pumpkin

While it’s relatively commonplace to find fun seasonal flavors from all the big players in the grocery ice cream game like Breyer’s, Dreyer’s, Haagen Dazs, and Ben & Jerry’s, it’s a much more rare feat to come across a higher end brand sneaking a seasonal release into the frozen aisle. Oftentimes a craft-leaning brand will only get the most likely to sell and core flavors at a store, maybe 4 or 5 varieties tops, and all the special ones will need to be ordered online or picked up at a (non-existent on this coast) scoop shop. A fortunate outlier to this equation has popped up, likely due to the mainstream infatuation with everything pumpkin, and at my local Whole Foods I was able to score Graeter’s spin on the trendy flavor, simply dubbed, Limited Edition Pumpkin.

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As expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, the texture is incredibly smooth, creamy, and dense. The flavor is sweet, subtly spicy, and mostly notably pumpkin-pronounced. The finishing note is pure squashy goodness and carries one of the most authentic and vegetal pumpkin flavors I’ve ever had in ice cream. There are notes of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, but they definitely take a backseat to the gourd-forward ensemble of flavors in the container.

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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Graeter’s, a company that prides itself on presenting classic, mostly refined and uncomplicated flavors executed with pure richness, went a very straight forward route with their pumpkin ice cream. The flavor is simply called “Pumpkin” and not “Pumpkin Pie” or “Pumpkin Spice”, so the spice being more of an undertone is exactly as advertised; but it also limits how good this ice cream can be. Similar to a very well executed vanilla, no matter how good it is it can’t compete with more complex flavors that incorporate multiple textures, mix-ins, and techniques to create a more engaging pint.

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I would love to see a company with very high quality base ice cream like Graeter’s incorporate a caramel swirl or a white chocolate spin on their renowned chocolate chips to bring some extra textural contrast and depth to their fantastic pumpkin flavor. I don’t want to call this one “boring” because it’s very well done, but it isn’t the type of pint I need to seek out year after year as it does’t satisfy any urge a solid pumpkin pie filling can do perfectly well – especially at the higher price point.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

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REVIEW: Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie

You may or may not know this, but ice cream and gelato are not the same thing. Yes, “gelato” in Italian does mean ice cream, and the end results of both processes are similarly delicious, but there are a few key components that make for big differences. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than American ice cream, and as a result has less air and is a bit denser than your average stateside scoop. Even more importantly, it uses less cream and eggs and more milk, which results in a lower fat content and translates the flavors differently, oftentimes more intensely, than typical high butterfat ice cream. Because there’s less fatty interference to coat the tongue, the flavors, especially fruit based ones, shine like they never can in the American stuff.

It’s no secret that I’m a big ole ice cream junky, but I also really love gelato. I’ve had more gelato in random shops or restaurants than purchased pints, and I was surprised that over the course of the last year I gave -zero- love to the classic Italian dessert on this blog. I decided that was unacceptable, and time for a rescoop of a seasonal staple from the biggest grocery gelato name of them all – Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie.

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This frozen take on Thanksgiving’s finest combines a spiced pumpkin gelato with a brown sugar swirl and pieces of pie crust. Immediately upon opening the container there is a massive spicy sweet bouquet of cinnamon and pumpkin, which is impressive because the temperature of frozen desserts often keeps them from smelling anything close to how wonderful they taste.

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The texture is exactly as a gelato should be – smooth and creamy with an airy density that has a velvety-ness more akin to a perfectly made smoothie than your average premium ice cream. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin notes are big and bright with perfect authenticity. The most surprising aspect of the profile is how prominent the nutmeg is, with all of its sweet nuances on full display. The pie crust pieces are mostly on the small side but taste terrific. Many of them are soft with a squishy give, and occasionally one will pop up with a crunchy butteriness that reminds me of the slightly charred outer-crust goodness. The brown sugar swirl is more integrated into the base than it is a stand out component on its own, but it definitely brings a pretty intense sugary pop that weaves through the entire pint.

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My only issue with this flavor, and it’s one that I run into with gelato from time to time, is it is very sweet. The lower fat content is both a blessing and a curse, in that the spices don’t get held back by the fat and are able to show their full potential, but there’s also no fat to mellow the sugar and add depth to the experience. The aspects of gelato that make this pint strong are the same ones that hold it back from being perfect. It isn’t bad by any means, in fact it’s one of Talenti’s strongest offerings, it just becomes a bit too much for me after a serving, and leaves my mouth feeling a bit like my ears do after listening to a great song on mediocre headphones – all treble and no bass…but damn that’s still a good song.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($4.99)

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REVIEW: White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s

Pumpkin pie ain’t so poppable, and this year Mars want to change the way we embrace autumn’s most iconic circular treat. Although there are an unbelievable amount of pumpkin spice labeled products, not too many try to actually conquer the true application of said spice mix via the pie, which is a generally softer, creamier, and squash-y-er experience than pure spice overload. As a counterpart to the shriek-inducing double chocolate whammy of Cookies & Screeem, White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s are here to cool us down for short, relaxed, fall evenings.

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The candies present themselves as a lovely autumn array of muted tan, orange, and brown, with the usual bloated circular shape of the flavor-infused limited M&M’s. The typical great crunchy shell begins the bite, followed by a very well balanced and sweater-weather-worthy taste of pumpkin pie.

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The flavor is mellow but very genuine and enjoyable. The leading note is sweet, with the bulk of the candy being white chocolate, followed by some cool subtle cinnamon and nutmeg. They’re creamy and lush with the mixture of spices offsetting the typically hyper-sugary profile of white chocolate. Unlike “real” or bitter chocolate, the spices don’t go to war with the silky white cocoa butter, and all the flavors coexist harmoniously. Being the spice-lover that I am, I would have no problem with a little more tingle, but I also don’t eat pumpkin pie anticipating my tongue to burn, so I’m not let down by these at all.

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I’m the type of person who loves a good dollop of whipped cream on top of my end-of-Thanksgiving slice, and these M&M’s channel that sensation wonderfully. They taste like a big heaping forkful of mellow creamy pumpkin adorned with an ample amount of whip, and are perfectly snackable as well as true to their desired flavor destiny. Perhaps not the most poppin’ poppable candies you’ll ever have, but definitely one worthy of the crystal candy bowl in the middle of Grandma’s holiday dinner spread.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($3.29)
Quick Nutrition: 1.5 oz – 210 cal – 11g fat – 6g sat fat – 40mg sodium – 29g carb – 28g sugar – 2g protein

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins Candy Bar Mashup

This review is a big one for me, as it marks the one year anniversary of Sean’s Skillet. While the actual day isn’t until the end of the month, this blog began on October 30, 2016 with a review of Baskin Robbins’ Treat Oreo Treat Dark, and since then writing about the Flavor of the Month has been the only constant recurring series I’ve done – a true labor of love. Although BR are the biggest scoop shop chain in the world, they get largely overlooked by real ice cream aficionados, and a lot of the folks that I observe frequenting the shop stick to the classics or one of the 30-40 varieties that are familiar in the dip case.

I love Baskin Robbins, I grew up going there and have always been fascinated by the limited flavors and some of the incredible seasonal’s like America’s Birthday Cake. For years my October would truly feel real at the sight of Oreo’s with orange creme, and they are put to no better use than in the Baskin staple Trick Oreo Treat. Much like last year, BR are keeping the original TOT as a seasonal offering and bringing us an all new Halloween themed scoop to welcome the spookiest time of year. Candy Bar Mashup combines Snickers, Milky Way, and Twix in chocolate ice cream swirled with a caramel ribbon.

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The chocolate base is very standard in terms of its flavor, but immediately jumps out at me as feeling lighter than what I’m used to. It has a mellow, creamy chocolate presence that isn’t very exciting or offensive, but the lighter texture is a bit distracting. While I would never consider BR to be super premium, I am used to them being fairly close to the density of Ben & Jerry’s, at around 15 grams of fat per serving, and this is inching closer towards Dreyers territory (but not nearly that thin, and not gummy at all). Baskin Robbins do offer some amazing chocolate in Mississippi Mud and Superfudge Truffle, but this base is incredibly basic, and unfortunately, boring.

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The mix-ins bring a bit of halloween flair, but let’s be honest, where are the peanut butter cups? The Twix pieces are exactly the same as this years’ Made with Twix, which utilized separate pieces of the shortbread cookie covered in chocolate with no caramel. These pieces are the most prominent mix-in, at least in my scoop, and have the wonderful buttery crumbly crunch of the Twix cookies that add a little bit of intrigue to the relatively flat chocolate. The caramel swirl is minimal but present with the occasional gooey sweet highlight that naturally compliments the cookie very well.

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Snickers and Milky Way are definitely the co-stars here, and make only a few appearances in my cup. The pieces are significantly smaller than the Twix, and the Milky Way are only identifiable by their oddly hardened nougat-caramel combination and don’t really stand out against the already present chocolate and caramel. The baby chunks of Snickers bring a slight fatty peanut pop, which is great, but leaves me asking again – WHERE are the PB cups?

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While Candy Bar Mashup isn’t a failure by any means, it feels pretty safe, uninspired, and lacking in any true spooky holiday whimsy. I wish Baskin Robbins had brought back Trick Oreo Treat Dark, who’s dark fudge ribbon really set the flavor off to indulgent depths that this mashup only wishes it could touch.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($2.99)
Quick Nutrition: 290 cal – 15g fat – 9g sat fat – 150mg sodium – 35g carbs – 1g fiber – 28g sugar – 5g protein

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Life

My life at the moment feels like a constant joyous swirl of pumpkin spice, which makes my repeat purchase of Pumpkin Spice Life all that much more fitting. I ate Life from time to time growing up, but it didn’t have the big sugary appeal of Reese’s Puffs or Cookie Crisp, so I haven’t revisited it much as an adult. Last year when this cereal dropped I made my return to the Life brand, and much like the PS Cheerios, when I saw them this season I felt the need to try them again, and gotta bring my thoughts to the skillet.

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This cereal isn’t nearly as spicy as its direct Cheerios competition, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t just as tasty. The little criss-crossed squares don’t jump with cloves and nutmeg, but they do have a sharp cinnamon presence and wonderful creamy, almost buttery essence that makes them really enjoyable to eat. Dry they have lots of crunch and embrace the brighter, sweeter side of cinnamon, even though a serving only clocks in at 6 grams of sugar. When milk is added the creaminess gets kicked up a notch and the cinnamon flavor doesn’t fade – it simply stays a cool, mellow, calming spicy presence that is downright pleasant to eat.

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The flavor, while it isn’t very intense, reminds me a bit of pie crust that has just a touch of pumpkin pie filling on it. While I haven’t had Cinnamon Life in quite awhile, I imagine this is very similar, yet the bowl screams autumn, and I don’t recall getting those vibes from the purely cinnamon version. There’s an upper register pop to this cereal that’s unique, almost like a spicy spark going off on my tongue, and it happens with every bite.

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I’ll be honest, there isn’t a ton of bold pumpkin flavor in Pumpkin Spice Life, but there’s a perfect balance of toothy, spicy, earthy, and delicious that makes it incredibly palatable and hard to stop eating. It isn’t aggressive but it’s refined, and sometimes subtly can be a real treat.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($2.99)

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