REVIEW: Salt & Straw’s California Honey Rocky Road

The Bay Area is a wonderfully creative place. Our year round agreeable weather, crazy good food scene, and tech giants’ home bases have yielded tons of great innovation, but the inspiration has been alive for decades. Not just the now-mainstream mission style super burrito, or the the major metal influence of Metallica, or the game-changing person-to-person swapping of Craigslist, but something much more classic, and even nostalgic, has its roots in the bay – rocky road ice cream. Lore has it that in 1929 William Dryer took his wife’s scissors and cut up walnuts and marshmallows to add to his chocolate ice cream on the regular in Oakland, California, mirroring a favorite candy bar made by his partner, Joseph Edy (recognize those names?) After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the ice cream creating duo swapped out walnuts for almonds and gave the flavor a name to would encourage people to smile in the midst of the Depression. 

Accidentally paying homage to its Bay Area roots, Salt & Straw’s California Honey Rocky Road combines chocolate cream cheese ice cream with candied California almonds and a ribbon of honey marshmallow fluff.
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The chocolate cream cheese ice cream is delicious but a little bit different than I anticipated. It’s incredibly smooth, rich, and velvety with the succulent texture of cream cheese but none of the tang. This isn’t an issue, just a bit of a surprise, as I would have welcomed a little bit of funk into the well-established profile of rocky road. The chocolate notes are light and on the milk side of the cocoa-equation, channeling old school scoop shops and little league malt cups eaten with a wooden spoon. It’s classic and very well executed, albeit a bit mild for my personal taste; and despite the cream cheese curveball in the description, shouldn’t push anyone away with unadventurous tastebuds.

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Candied nuts are one of my absolute favorite mix-ins, and this flavor highlights every reason why I love them. The almonds are crunchy, sweet, fatty, and bursting with roasted almond flavor. They pop up in varying sizes, from small pieces of a nut to massive soundeffect-inducing boulders. The candied technique used on the almonds is light and almost crisp, much less like brittle and much more like honeycomb or crisped rice, and it’s a refreshing textural treat.

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The real showstopper in this pint, and one that Salt & Straw is no stranger to using in other great flavors, is the honey marshmallow fluff. I want to go on record and say ALL marshmallow fluff should be made with honey. It takes absolutely nothing away from the gooey, stretchy-sweet qualities of the marshmallow and boosts it up with amazing golden honey goodness. There’s simply nothing lost and everything gained by fusing the two elements together. The swirl is incredibly ample and well-placed throughout the container, often setting up in massive globs big enough to get an entire spoonful, which is a must, and is indulgent deliciousness at its finest.

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Rocky road is not one of my go-to staple ice cream flavors, but this is the best rocky road I’ve ever had. It’s elevated enough to standout against the many others I’ve had while not steering too far away from the core of what makes this flavor what it is. With a darker, more complex chocolate base this could be a pint I have to stock up on for the winter, but as it stands it’s just a damn good twist on a classic, and an absolute must try if you’re a rocky road enthusiast.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Salt & Straw (San Francisco, CA)

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Oreo

In 2014 Oreo joined the pumpkin spice party and I lost my shit. Autumn is the pinnacle party time for the tastebuds of señor cinnaslut (me) and the limited Oreo’s at the time had seen no spicy love, and were mostly a wash of weird fruit and ice cream flavors. I bought a package at first sighting and devoured them happily amid the glow of my three-wick Bath and Body Works Leaves candle. I was in my zone, and I loved them, but for whatever reason, I haven’t repurchased them the last couple of years. Being that this blog didn’t exist until last year I felt it was only fitting to give it another go, and shed some skillet light on the fourth season return of the Pumpkin Spice Oreo.

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The prominent cookie-nose on these pumpkin cookies is the very familiar scent of Golden Oreo’s – sweet and vanilla-y, with just a hint of cinnamon rounding it out. The combination of the golden wafer with the soft spice notes reminds me of graham, and I wonder how a graham wafer would change the profile – likely for the better.

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As a boy who loves him a healthy dose of spice, these Pumpkin-O’s are simply too subtle. The flavor starts just like the initial smell implies – almost identical to a Golden Oreo. It’s noticeably less sweet, being tamed by the artificial addition of spice flavoring, and only towards the end does it finish with a bit of cinnamon flair.

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Isolating the creme on its own reveals a bit more cinnamon depth, but still no tingle or real autumn intrigue is brought to the table. Although there’s a touch of cinnamon, the rest of the pumpkin spice gang – nutmeg, cloves, and ginger – are nowhere to be found. The cookie is actually less spicy and complex than the stellar Cinnamon Bun Oreo, which is a shame since it has “spice” in its name. It’s still a fine tasting Oreo but it doesn’t bring anything particularly exciting to the table that makes me want to eat more, and I now remember why I passed on picking them up the last couple of years.

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

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REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake

There’s something about firsts. You know the ones, big first time moments in your life – girls, foods, songs, authors, cities, etc. One of the big firsts I always think about this time of year is when I first fell in love with creamy versions of pumpkin. It was a cup of pumpkin frozen yogurt, topped with black chocolate sprinkles, eaten outside on a crisp autumn day – crunchy dead leaves gathered at my feet. While I always loved pumpkin pie, enjoying it in cold, melty, frozen form was something new to me, and I haven’t let go of that swirly passion for the last 15 years. It is with that sense of glowing nostalgia that I crack into my first pumpkin ice cream of the season with Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake, which combines a pumpkin cheesecake ice cream with graham cracker swirl.

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This flavor is much less mix-in reliant and heavy than a lot of Ben & Jerry’s pints, which means the base has to be really strong in order for it to succeed. As I scoop into the pale off-orange autumn abyss of the container scarecrows begin to sing and crows ca-caw with pumpkin-y bliss; this base is most definitely a success. The texture is incredibly smooth and decadent but not too dense. It isn’t light by any means but it carries a perfect velvety feeling that transcends a lot of what B&J’s offer in their bases and is pleasantly pumkin-y rich.

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The one-two punch of pumpkin purée and cream cheese high on the ingredient list helps translate the pumpkin cheesecake vibes without being too in-your-face. While the ice cream doesn’t have any pronounced tang to it, it does have a nice cheesiness that plays beneath the layer of squash and spices. The pumpkin flavor is very deep and impressively true with subtle notes of cinnamon and nutmeg that are present but far from aggressive. It isn’t terribly spicy but it is very accurate to the balance of flavors I would expect from a slice of spiced cheesecake.

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Graham crackers are one of my favorite mix-ins ever, not only for their general flavor but in the way they work so well with dairy. The swirl here is full of graham flavor with a gritty salty mouthfeel and hints of butter. It’s a perfect crumbly sweet and salty accompaniment to the creamy spiced base, but as usual with graham, I just want more. There are occasional pockets of medium sized chunks but the swirl is mostly as described – a swirl. Unfortunately this comes across much more like crumbs for most of the experience, and as the lone mix-in there’s not much room to be too crumbly.

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This ice cream is really easy to eat. Due to its lighter density and balanced base flavor it goes down quick and is all around delicious. It’s one more swirl or a little more graham away from being a perfect pint, but it’s definitely one of the best frozen autumn treats you’ll find at the grocery store this season, and very true to its cheesecake destiny.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($4.49)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (103g) – 260 cal – 15g fat – 7g sat fat – 140mg sodium – 30g carb – 25g sugar – 4g protein

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REVIEW: Low Kalz Protein Bars

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Low Kalz is an all new brand of natural protein bars launched by the subscription box company of the same name. I love protein bars for their on-the-go munching abilities and gravitate towards the less-natural candy bar kinda flavored options; but I’m not closed minded it when it comes for new portable ways to get my protons in. Ryan, the founder of Low Kalz, contacted me and sent me some bars to try, which use almond flour and whey protein, as well as nuts and fruit for sweetness, and require refrigeration due to their lack of preservatives. I ranked them all against themselves with an overall curve of all natural bars in mind.

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The Banana Chocolate bar has a very soft, moist, bread-y texture that reminds me of a low fat muffin. It’s dense yet airy with a delicateness that causes it to fall apart a bit when left at room temperature, but not quite crumble because of the higher moisture content. The flavor is sharp and sweet with an authentic banana presence that finishes with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Even though there’s no apple listed in the ingredients I also get a bit of apple-esque acidity that pokes through in the general fruity sweetness. The chocolate chips add a nice semi-sweet pop of contrast, and as someone who’s always loved banana and chocolate together the combo really works for me. I wish the chips were a bit firmer, as the bar as a whole is pretty squishy, but overall this is a pretty good take on a healthy, portable, and quick fix version of banana bread.


Rating: 8/10
Nutrition Facts: 100 cal – 4.5g fat – 1g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 15mg sodium – 11g carbs – 2g fiber – 6g sugar – 7g protein

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The Apple Cranberry bar has a wonderful spicy bread-y smell that instantly reminds me of cinnamon rolls. The play of the apple and cinnamon together is really great, and the cranberries bring a pretty massive rush of tartness. There’s also a nice nutty flavor from the almonds that plays well against the sweeter tangy elements. While the nose on this one is really good, the overall flavor is a bit too heavy on the tart side and starts to hinge towards sour. Still completely edible, but not something I really crave with a tasty cup of coffee or to get me through an afternoon slump.

Rating: 6/10
Nutrition Facts: 90 cal – 5g fat – 0.5g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 20mg sodium – 7g carbs – 2g fiber – 4g sugar – 7g protein

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The Tropical Blueberry bar arrived to me nearly flattened and falling apart, which is a shame because it’s not only the most interesting and unique flavor of the bunch but it also wound up being my favorite. Immediately I get hit with huge tangy orange aroma and flavor that positively jumps out of the package. The blueberries make me think of muffins and my mind shifts to a wonderful blueberry citrus scone I’ve had in the past, channeling that flavor-memory in the best way.  It’s tangy and tart, but unlike cranberries, the blueberries add a nice extra burst of sweetness that work really wonderfully with the bold citrus notes. This bar is refreshing, sweet, and bright, and definitely one I would like to have again.

Rating: 9/10
Nutrition Facts: 100 cal – 5g fat – 0.5g sat fat – 10mg cholesterol – 20mg sodium – 7g carbs – 1g fiber – 4g sugar – 7g protein

If you’re interested in trying Low Kalz you can order them through their website, and using promo code 10OFF will give you 10% off of a box of 12.

https://lowkalz.com/

REVIEW: Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Yule logs are a traditional Christmas time dessert made of rolled up cake and icing, popular in Switzerland, Belgium, France, and you guessed it – in mini junk food size at gas stations all across America. The most common junky American version is the Ho Ho, and not far behind are Little Debbie’s smaller, and in my opinion slightly less delicious, Swiss Rolls. But unlike Hostess, Miss Debbie is a rather creative gal when it comes to her cellophane logs, and beefs them up in larger size for Zebra Rolls and regular seasonal themed editions. Although it’s not quite Christmas time yet, in fact it isn’t even officially autumn, I can’t think of many better additions to the scrumptious cake logs than a little spice, and I’ve got just that with Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Spice Rolls.

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Off the jump these plump pumpkin rolls are positively bursting with cream filling. It might be because there’s no outer coating to conceal what awaits when normally biting in, but just removing the roll from its wrapper the cream is begging to be devoured. The smell is only subtly spicy, with just some soft cinnamon and vanilla enticing my nostrils, but they look real pretty with their best soft orange orange glow and a swirly drizzled top for bedazzlement.

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There’s not a whole lot of pumpkin flair in the actual flavor of the roll, but there’s much more depth than what Debbie usually offers, and a whole lot more balance than what you typically get with quick-fix baked goods. The normally painfully sweet cream filling, which, as it looked, is incredibly ample, is given its chance to shine admirably against the soft cinnamon in the batter. The absence of coating also let’s the cream feel more impactful, as the soft cake isn’t hindered by a waxy layer and the cream brings all the squishy-ness I want from such a confection.

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While I’m generally a fan of more aggressively spiced things, I actually appreciate the softness of the cinnamon flavor in these rolls. Sure, there are some better iterations of cheap pumpkin cakes, but the massive amount of cream and super soft moist-ness reeled me in and kept me excited enough to want to eat more. They remind me more of a mellow Thanksgiving afternoon than a spooky October evening, and surprisingly, I’m quite okay with that.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($1.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1 roll – 260 cal – 11g fat – 5g sat fat – 130mg sodium – 39g carb – 26g sugar – 1g protein

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REVIEW: Breyers Delights (Vanilla Bean and Mint Chip)

Ice cream is hot these days, probably hotter than it’s ever been. While old school super premium brands are flourishing and there seems to be more new scoop shops popping up every month than I ever thought imaginable, one of the hottest ice cream trends is infusing it with protein and dropping the sugar. After the slow rise and ultimate booming success of Halo Top, who as of July are the best selling grocery ice cream in America, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon – even big time boys like Breyers. Their latest release, Breyers Delights, have low sugar, low fat, and 20 grams of protein per pint. They launched with four flavors and I chose to try the two identical flavors that were my favorite from the first Halo line in 2015 – Vanilla Bean and Mint Chip.

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Opening up the Vanilla Bean it is immediately less visually appealing than all the other protein ice creams I’ve had. The top is icy and fully separated from the sides of the carton with an odd spiky texture.

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After giving it a good amount of time to temper, even longer than your average Halo Top or Enlightened, it scoops decently with a smooth and creamy consistency. Unfortunately the flavor is about as appealing to my tastebuds as the initial top-popping to my eyes and I’m pretty disappointed. The ice cream finishes with a really harsh, almost medicinal quality that I initially thought was the result of way too much vanilla extract, but looking at the ingredients it’s pretty obvious it’s the sweetener they used – stevia. The stevia creates an astringent, off-putting finish that makes this without a doubt one of the worst vanilla ice creams – protein, light, or otherwise – I’ve ever had.

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The base flavor is only mildly sweet, less sweet than Enlightened’s, and doesn’t have any of the great true vanilla bean flavor of Halo Top’s. Adding some strawberries and whipped cream to the equation helped alleviate a bit of the bad taste, but I don’t want to start my sundae with something I feel the urge to cover up. This is not good, and I don’t recommend it at all.

Rating: 4/10

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Opening up the mint carton is similarly un-cute but marginally better – with more notable smoothness and less weird spikes jumping out at me. I’ll give Breyers some credit for having much more significantly sized chocolate chips than their competitors, but that’s the end of the compliments for this flavor as well.

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The peppermint extract is far too aggressive, and begins the bite on an already unpleasant note, which then unfortunately finishes with the same off-putting stevia flavor as the vanilla. It’s harsh, astringent, and just generally not good. The sizable chocolate chips can’t save this pint from being far from sweet enough to pass as a dessert replacement, and whereas Halo Top’s mint chip finishes with a sweet cooling and creamy mint flavor, this feels like I took a swig of cheap mouthwash.

Rating: 5/10

Both of these flavors from Breyers are a big letdown, and I guess that’s right in line with the overall quality I’ve come to expect from Breyer’s products in general. What’s more perplexing about this whole situation, is that Halo Top is priced at $4.99 and each of these cost me $5.99. With more flavors, far better execution, and a cheaper price point, both Halo Top and Enlightened are a far superior choice if you’re looking for a macro-cheap ice cream fix.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios

There are some companies that beat around the pumpkin plant when it comes to their spicy autumn products, but let me assure you, Pumpkin Spice Cheerios is not one of them. Picking them up in the store I could smell the cloves through the box, and at the cash register I had to check myself to see if I was buying a box of cereal or a box of cigarettes. For the spicy earthy aroma of cloves to permeate not only the plastic bag, but the cardboard, and then float the three feet from my hand to nose, is insanely impressive, and General Mills deserves a resounding slow clap for their pumpkin prowess.

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It’s no surprise that opening the actual bag reveals a wash of fragrant spicy autumnal goodness on top of earthy whole grains. There’s a very pleasant, squashy pumpkin presence in the mix that when I sniff deep with my eyes closed I can envision hay stacks at the pumpkin patch.

The flavor starts with Cheerios’ signature hearty oat-y crunch and gradually evolves into a smooth and sweet pumpkin with notes of honey, reminiscent of its big Honey Nut brother, before finishing strongly with pronounced cloves, cinnamon, and a touch of nutmeg. The clove flavor is intense, but it isn’t over the top, and as with most cereals the nose is a touch more dramatic than the actual bite.

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In milk, as expected, the clove-leaning flavor drops down a bit, and the creamy pumpkin honey notes are amplified, but the flavor overall is incredibly well-rounded with spicy cinnamon delight. The moisture awakens the bouquet of fall spices and ties them together with a beautiful orange bow, making for a bowl that should be agreeable to most palates and not just fiends like myself. Cheerios are some of the most classic in the game when it comes to a quick morning fix, and their ability to hold up to milk is proven and no different here. They work perfectly when submerged in the cold creamy stuff and cradle my spoon like a cozy autumn scarf in the most satisfying way.

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Whether you’re a certified cinna-slut spice junky, or just want a fresh spin on your breakfast cereal, this is one seasonal release that’s worth your time, and will get you in the proper mood for carving that jack-o-lantern in, ya know…six weeks.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Target ($2.99)
Quick Nutrition: 3/4 cup – 110 cal – 2g fat – 120mg sodium – 22g carb – 2g fiber – 8g sugar – 2g protein

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