REVIEW: JC’s Scoops’ Salted Caramel Fudge Brownie

When I walk into a new scoop shop there are a couple of trigger words that really get my ice cream juices flowin’. Salted caramel, birthday cake, peanut butter, and brownies are among the top attention getters for me, and if you combine any of them into one flavor I’m guaranteed to need to taste it. Although they don’t have any proper shops, JC has once again lured me into their scoops with a tantalizing flavor that hits me right in my trigger spot. Salted Caramel Fudge Brownie combines a savory sweet caramel ice cream with a salted caramel swirl and fudge brownie squares.

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The most interesting aspect to the description of this ice cream is “savory sweet caramel”, and on my first bite in I know exactly what they’re talking about. When I hear “savory” I think about dinner, but what JC really meant here is “salty”, and it’s a damn fine salted caramel base. Maybe they didn’t want to be redundant in their description, but the salted caramel flavor is big and bold, with the base and swirl working together to create a deep savory salted profile that pops with buttery caramel notes and is downright delicious.

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I wish there was more distinction between the swirl and ice cream itself, as I’m not getting much gooey caramel satisfaction, but the two combined are a real winner. Most caramel bases I’ve had from grocery-available brands are fine but pretty lackluster compared to their higher end competition, and this one delivers a much more gourmet depth that I really appreciate.

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The brownie squares are a plenty and tasty – with a rich chewy texture and great chocolate flavor that give sweet reprieve to the double salted aspect of the base and swirl. They taste really high quality, up there with Ben & Jerry’s own notoriously fire Greyston Bakery made brownies, and are a great compliment to everything going on. Some of the brownies have crumbled and integrated themselves into the base, giving a slightly gritty texture to the ice cream like a good cookies and cream. While the chunks are definitely the highlight, it’s nice having little pieces of chocolate in every bite.

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This flavor isn’t pushing any boundaries or playing with unique flavors the way some of JC’s Scoops’ other releases are, but it’s incredibly well executed and isn’t holding back with its wonderfully potent saltiness. For anyone, like myself, who loves that sweet and salty injection into their luscious creamy treats, you definitely don’t want to sleep on seemingly innocent looking paint pail pint.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Sprouts ($4.99)

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REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Buttered French Toast

There are few lines in the culinary world that are as blurry as the one between breakfast and dessert. Cakey, carb-y, hyper-sweet and deep fried indulgences that could be nearly the exact same thing with a slightly different name are commonplace on menus and in our American hearts as a way to start or end the day. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the morning and night is probably the worst time to encourage a massive sugar spike and crash, but I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t delicious. Completely in line with that trend, Coolhaus rolled out a brand new pint that aims to put a piece of breakfast’s finest into our melty cones of delight. Buttered French Toast combines a buttered brown sugar ice cream with pecan pralines, cakey toast pieces, and a maple swirl.

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The buttered brown sugar base is lovely. Smooth and sweet with a bit of a golden buttery flavor that compliments the natural dairy notes very well. It doesn’t have an artificial butter flavor to it like popcorn, but there’s a depth to it that pushes beyond the average sweet cream. There are also some hints of maple that come through and the breakfast vibes are fully intact.

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The breakfast vibes get fully amplified when my spoon comes in contact with the thick maple swirl. It’s an incredibly unique gelatinous swirl that holds its shape and pops up in globs all throughout the pint. I wasn’t sure how to react to this, because it’s almost like maple Jello, but I appreciate how prominent it is and the way it channels the viscosity of thick syrup that has latched onto a chunk of butter to become something truly epic. It’s much less sweet than straight up syrup, but the maple notes come through and the texture holds up well against the velvety base.

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Speaking of texture, the pecan pralines and cakey toast pieces are both executed very well. The pralines are of medium size with a caramelized exterior and robust fatty pecan flavor that reminds me of all the great butter pecan ice cream’s I’ve scooped. The pecan flavor gets elevated to another level with the toast pieces, which have the wonderful springy texture of white bread and a soft buttery essence. Sometimes bread can get icy or seize up in ice cream and that is not an issue here at all. The combination of the toast pieces, maple swirl, and brown sugar ice cream nails the profile of a beautiful plate of french toast almost perfectly, and the sweet breakfast lovin’ boy in me is immensely satisfied.

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Buttered French Toast is without a doubt the strongest pint I’ve had from Coolhaus. The mix-in density and base breathability are on point, the flavors strong, and the desired experience of breakfast meets dessert conveyed wonderfully.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.cool.haus and coming to stores soon!

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REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream 2017

Thanksgiving is the grandest meal of the year, and for the fifth time since they started in 2011, Salt & Straw are turning that epic feast into an immersive and inventive ice cream experience like no other. It isn’t just channeling the feelings and magic of the family-centric holiday, but actually fusing the savory salty flavors into wild new versions of America’s favorite dessert. This review is a little different than most, as rather than have a pint or scoop and pick it apart, I went into their new Hayes Valley location in San Francisco and had a full flight of the Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream offerings all at once; eating them sequentially as if I was partaking in a meal. A Salt & Straw flight comes with four flavors so I had to add one on the side, in a waffle bowl for ultimate dipping and crunching satisfaction, and opted to put start the meal in said crunchy bowl.

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Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans:
Sweet and spicy sweet potato ice cream with maple sugar caramelized pecans and maple marshmallow fluff.

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This scoop might sound strange at first, but it’s a pretty recognizable profile that translates really well into ice cream. The base is sweet and cinnamon-y with an overall flavor reminiscent of sweet potato pie that is absolutely delicious as an ice cream. The sweet potato’s organic consistency helps make the texture extra creamy and is perfectly succulent smooth. The caramelized pecans are rich and fatty with an amazing sugary pop that reminds me of sticky pecan pie in the best way. The maple marshmallow swirl is incredible, as is all marshmallow when touched by S&S, and while all the ingredients are very similar, there’s no doubt this ice cream is better than any sweet potato casserole I’ve ever had. This is the only flavor in the lineup that doesn’t have any distinct savory notes and it is an absolute slam dunk. Very scoop-able, very pint-able, and the shining star of pure deliciousness in this series. Rating: 10/10

Buttered Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Buttered mashed potatoes ice cream with a gravy fudge swirl.

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Yes, this is quite literally potato ice cream, and surprisingly, it works. Thanks to the use of yukon gold potatoes the texture is mostly smooth and creamy with a bit of potato grittiness that immediately starts to play mind games with my tastebuds. There are nuances of butter and garlic, but the overall profile still leans sweet. The swirl is thick and gravy-like, with a texture that screams fudge and a flavor that screams a chicken-stock-kissed caramel with a hint of bitterness. It’s slightly savory but not so much that it’s off-putting, and the relatively basic flavor of potato makes it less likely to clash with other scoops if you wanted to do a little mash up. For as bizarre as this one seems it’s actually pretty damn good, and I would eat it again no doubt. It isn’t as crave able as an average scoop of ice cream, but it’s executed well. Rating something like this is really challenging, since it’s in its own niche category, but I will attempt a numerical grade. Rating: 8.5/10

Persimmon Walnut Stuffing
Olive oil and coriander spiked ice cream with homemade toasted walnut stuffing and bourbon raisins.

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I don’t know about you but stuffing is one of my absolute favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner, and that savory bread-y satisfaction is on full display in this scoop. It isn’t weird at all. The olive oil ice cream is lush and beautifully creamy with hints of pepper that play against the general sweetness very well. The bourbon raisins pop with bright sugary notes and the chunks of stuffing are no joke. They are large and in charge. The olive oil and dairy soak the stuffing like a bread pudding and the overall experience is one that is reminiscent Thanksgiving’s best side, but also very scoopable. My only issue with this one was I didn’t taste persimmon at all, and I really wanted to because persimmon’s are fantastic. Rating: 8.5/10

Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey
Salted caramel turkey ice cream with candy-coated crispy turkey skin.

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This is without a doubt the weirdest of the bunch, and as far as crave-ability goes, my least favorite. The base is rich with turkey stock flavor, onions, and spices, yet is still sweet and very rich. I’m a huge fan of sweet and salty, but throwing this savory curveball into the mix is a little challenging for my tastebuds. The turkey skin is buttery and crunchy like toffee but still packs a distinctly meaty and poultry-heavy flavor. It’s bizarre, and for what it’s worth executed very well. It’s not the kind of scoop I would call disgusting, it’s just not one that tempts me to want to eat more. One of the more exciting things I tried was a bit of this and a bit of the mashed potatoes in one bite, and yep, it was just like the classic mix on a real Thanksgiving plate. Rating: 9/10 on execution, 7/10 for my personal taste.

Spiced Goat Cheese & Pumpkin Pie
Spiced goat cheese ice cream with swirls of mashed pumpkin filling.

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Who doesn’t love a good pumpkin pie to finish off the most indulgent meal of the year? I was super looking forward to this flavor, and while it’s good, I think it ultimately let me down the most. Goat cheese can work beautifully in ice cream, and S&S’s own Marionberry Habanero is a great example of this, but for my taste this one is simply too goat cheesy. The base is very tangy and almost tastes like a straight goat cheese log with just a touch of amplified sweetness and slight spice kick. The pumpkin swirl is great, but the ratio leans so heavily towards the base that I never feel like I got quite enough. The bites with equal parts of the two were terrific. Cheesy but spicy and sweet with lush pumpkin flavor – there just wasn’t enough of them to make me love the scoop as a whole. Rating: 7/10

Overall Salt & Straw’s Thanksgiving Dinner of Ice Cream is a total success – full of creative flavors that really do conjure up amazing memories of family and feasting. If you are fortunate enough to have a scoop shop in your neighborhood I highly recommend stopping in for a flight, and if you have an adventurous palate and can afford it, getting a 5 pack of pints delivered to your door would make for a really fun evening of food exploration.

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REVIEW: Coolhaus’ Campfire S’mores

Taking a hot, melty, crunchy dessert usually made over a fire and turning it into a frozen treat is no easy feat – and that’s why so many of them fail. Surprisingly, the best mainstream version of s’mores ice cream comes from a convenience store – 7-11, and a lot of attempts miss out on one or more crucial element that make s’mores so damn delicious. As the mint-dominated wonderland of holiday flavors begin to takeover the flavor of everything in sight I thought it would be nice to have one last summery taste of a take on the tricky profile. Coolhaus’ Campfire S’mores combines a salted tahitian vanilla bean ice cream with a graham cracker cookie butter-marshmallow swirl and dark chocolate squares.

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Salted vanilla bean ice cream? Not quite, but the base is still pretty tasty with a great vanilla bean flavor. Having had a number of great salted bases this one doesn’t really jump out at me as being salty at all, but it does have a nice balanced sweetness to it that maybe is the result of the presence of some salt. The texture is a little strange – it has a fluffier consistency that I normally associate with lower quality ice creams, but it isn’t super gummy or offputting, more smooth and creamy but light. In a weird way it kind of reminds me of gooey marshmallows and I even get hints of graham in the flavor like all the s’mores’ elements are being channeled in some odd maybe intentional maybe accidental way.

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The most interesting part of this pint, and the one that is a true mouthful, is the graham cracker cookie butter-marshmallow swirl. When I read the description I was bummed they didn’t do two separate swirls, and I read “cookie butter” as translating to speculoos, but it isn’t spicy at all and the cookie butter execution surprisingly works. It’s a cookie butter made with graham instead of the notoriously spicy cookie, and its texture acts as a way to provide the marshmallow-y-ness a s’mores should have. It’s kind of cheating but ultimately pretty good, as it gives a smooth buttery character with graham flavor and a pretty poppin’ sweetness that stands out strong – and there was quite a bit of it integrated through the whole container.

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The dark chocolate squares are pretty average but serve their purpose. Medium-sized with a good cocoa bite, but ultimately kind of dry and unremarkable in the grand scheme of chocolate chips. They have a solid crunch to them but I don’t want crunchy chocolate anywhere near my s’mores, and without a bit of melty-ness to back it up they wound up being my least favorite component in the flavor, even though I do appreciate their dark bitter flavor.

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This is a solid pint of ice cream, and I like it a lot more than the Bananas Foster I initially tried from Coolhaus. Even though it doesn’t deliver on all the campfire magic of a true s’mores, all the elements are represented and I appreciate the creativity that went into the flavor as a whole, especially with that graham cookie butter.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

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REVIEW: Quest Birthday Cake Coated Protein Bar

If pumpkin spice is the seasonal signifier of the basic b, then birthday cake is the quintessential staple of the basic’s day to day favorite flavor. My tastebud’s tendencies keep me right in line with all the basic ladies of the world, and just like I love me some spice I love me a good birthday cake flavored treat. Ice cream, candy, lotion, candles, and yep, protein bars. While this trend is far from new, in fact I think it peaked a couple years ago, the biggest player in the protein bar game are extremely late to the party. This week Quest showed up when everyone was already wasted and stumbling with their Birthday Cake coated protein bar.

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This bar is a bit of a deviation for the company, using a coated outer layer similar to Oh Yeah’s One bars instead of the usual plain outer skin. It certainly looks pretty enough, studded with a smattering of fun confetti dots and a semi-glossy coating that is incredibly soft and smooth.

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Biting in the initial taste is very creamy, sweet, and slightly salty, making a combination that truly does remind me of a well balanced buttercream. The texture is soft, chewy, and fresh, leaving a pretty positive initial impression. Unfortunately after the first couple chews a very strong and unpleasant artificial sugar flavor takes over that is inescapably powerful. While Quest bars do tend to carry a bit of a sucralose finish, this bar leans way too heavy on an astringent artificial flavor that takes away from any birthday cake potential it had. While the outer coating provides some nice creaminess, the inside of the bar is very bland and flavorless, leaving little reason to want to eat more of these bars.

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The biggest issue here, aside from the fact that the bar legitimately doesn’t taste good, is that there are far too many better options already on the market. Oh Yeah One’s Birthday Cake is a staple with comparable macros, and very strong offerings from MuscleTech and Fit Joy have been out for over a year as well. Quest has had some pretty solid releases recently with Mocha Chocolate Chip and last years Cereal Bars, but this one is a major step backwards for a company that at this point really needs to be pushing the envelope with portable protein supplements. If someone showed up to my birthday party with this bar I would revoke their party privileges and show them to the door.

Rating: 4/10
Found at: GNC ($2.39)
Quick Nutrition: 180 cal – 5g fat – 3g sat fat – 220mg sodium – 25g carb – 14g fiber – 1g sugar – 21g protein

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REVIEW: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios

If I could eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups every day for breakfast and not feel like a pile of garbage, I probably would. My fantasy was somewhat fulfilled as a youngster when I was beckoned to the TV as another young white boy hollered at me “It’s Reese’s…for breakfast!” My head turned and my life changed, when Reese’s Puffs cereal was gifted to the world in the mid-90’s. From that moment on the Puffs became one of my favorite cereals, and up there with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Count Chocula, it has maintained a stronghold on my nostalgia-fueled favorites as I’ve gotten older. Whether tugging at our Reese’s Puffs memories or just realizing PB and chocolate is one of the greatest flavor combo’s ever, Cheerios came strong this autumn with a new member of their preferment lineup – Chocolate Peanut Butter.

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The cereal has a great, sweet peanut butter-y aroma mixed with the whole oat goodness you know and love from Cheerios. Visually they’re very appealing with an equal amount of tan PB and brown chocolate O’s mingling together to create a wholesome version of one of the greatest duos of all time.

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What’s most impressive about eating these Cheerios is the authentic peanut butter slick that coats the pieces of cereal. Peanut butter is the third ingredient on the label, and I was pleasantly surprised that the PB presence pushes beyond flavor and translates to a wonderful fatty texture as well. The pieces taste like peanut butter and chocolate but also very distinctly Cheerios, and much like Honey Nut and other sweetened varieties, the sugar content isn’t so much that it takes away from the base flavor of the notoriously heart healthy breakfast option.

In milk the peanut butter mouthfeel is much less apparent, but the smoothness is still in tact with the natural texture of the milk. Once fully submerged in the cold creaminess the lower sugar content as compared to Reese’s Puffs is more obvious, and it eats a lot more like an “adult cereal” than a cartoon kiddy classic. There’s a nice, genuine bitter cocoa flavor that pops up over the PB and compliments the fatty nutty qualities really well. The chocolate and peanut butter are balanced with neither really taking the other one over, and every bite has a solid distribution of both flavors.

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Are Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios better than Reese’s Puffs? Nah. Nothing can top those sweet crunchy balls of goodness; but this is a great addition to Cheerios’ strong lineup of cereals that still feels more responsible than eating candy for breakfast. And the milk that’s leftover after a hearty bowl? Pure bliss.

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

REVIEW: Ample Hills’ Big Ample Circus

Big Apple Circus began in New York in 1977 as an intimate European style one ring alternative to the then-popular and glitzy American three ring variety. While my personal experience with going to the circus has been limited to the mediocre Barnum & Bailey and incredible Cirque du Soleil, I am extremely happy that Big Apple is celebrating 40 years of showmanship. Anything that leads to a new limited collaboration with Ample Hills is one worthy of applause, and I have been anxiously clapping by myself in California waiting for this frozen phenom to arrive. Big Ample Circus combines sweet cream ice cream with popcorn toffee and red sugar-toasted peanuts.

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Apparently being taken out to the ball game is a lot like taking a trip to the circus. This is straight up Cracker Jacks ice cream and I’m root-root-rooting for Ample Hills because they absolutely destroyed it. The major difference here is that every box of Cracker Jacks I’ve had since surpassing the age of 9 has tasted cheap and shitty, and the quality on display in this pint is the polar opposite.

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The sweet cream base is absolute perfection. Plain without being boring. Sweet without being cloying. Rich without being too heavy. Everything that I want from a sweet cream is on display in full decadence here. The driving flavor is pure milky high quality dairy that serves as a wonderful canvas to the epic amount of mix-ins AH crammed into the pint. There’s a dense texture from the more heavy-handed custard style use of egg yolks, and the lavish custardy is dialed in immaculately.

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The popcorn toffee weaves its way through the pint in giant chunks and is where my Cracker Jacks nostalgia switch really got activated. The toffee is essentially pieces of caramel corn stuck together in buttery bricks with a deep roasted burnt sugar flavor that is roasty, toasty, and comforting. The pieces are crunchy but not in a tooth-shattering way, and crumble with a beautiful silky butteriness that gives way to chewy popcorn. There’s a lovely hint of saltiness that pokes its way through the sweetness and a perfect top rope balancing act is in full effect.

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There are so many wild looking red sugar swirls bleeding into the base from the toasted candy coated peanuts that I keep expecting to taste cherry, but the peanut blood is relatively flavorless. Even though so much of the color has swirled its way into the sweet cream, many of the peanuts still have their candy coating intact, and crunch with a satisfying sugary but roasted pop that is downright deadly. Candied nuts work incredibly well as a mix-in, bringing more fat and sugar to the already deviously delicious mixture of butter and cream. Anytime they make an appearance is a good move in my book, and this one reads like a masterpiece.

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Big Ample Circus is a flavor that achieves on every level. It takes me back to a simpler time, eating Cracker Jacks and watching elephants do funny tricks in top hats, but also presents an elevated and high quality ice cream that stands strong on its own – no gimmick required. Three simple elements all executed with finesse is the ultimate recipe for success, and this is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: 10/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

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