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.

image1

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.

image2

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.

image3

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

image4

Advertisements

REVIEW: Baskin Robbins Belgian Waffle

In my funny fantasy food mind I’ve got a number of dream ice cream flavors. A truly satisfying spin on peanut butter banana, white chocolate blueberry basil, popcorn and anything, a caramel ice cream that utilizes real peanut butter as a swirl, and the list goes on and on. Above all else though, I’ve always wanted a pancakes and syrup ice cream, and this year, my dreams nearly come true. The September Flavor of the Month at Baskin Robbins is Belgian Waffle, which combines a maple praline ice cream with Belgian waffle pieces, pralined pecans, and a creamy caramel swirl.

image1

On my first spoonful this ice cream is already fantastic. The maple praline ice cream is smooth and rich with a wonderfully balanced maple flavor that is present but not too over the top sweet. The addition of the praline brings some richness and depth so there is a touch of nuttiness that pushes beyond just a pure syrupy sugar flavor that maple can fall victim to. Maple bases are few and far in between for mainstream companies, and this is one that I would love to see offered on a more regular basis.

image2

The pralines, just like in one of my favorite BR core flavors, Pralines ‘N Cream, are positively top notch. Super gritty and sugar-coated crispy crunchy, they bring huge textural contrast and a big burst of sweet yet fatty pecan flavor that is nostalgic magic to my tongue. They work very well in tandem with the thin and sweet caramel that weaves its way in and out of every bite, adding syrupy depth to the base and more fun melty contrast. The caramel seems to enjoy pooling itself around the big chunks of toffee-ed nuts for an extra sweet pop of indulgent breakfast delight.

image5

The most intriguing and risky part of this flavor is the waffles themselves – and overall they work pretty damn well. The waffle pieces are soft and fluffy chunks of Saturday mornings finest, and have the chewy cakey texture most baked goods take on in ice cream. They’re mostly small to medium sized and integrate themselves into bites rather than take over like a massive mix-in. It’s hard to distinguish any particular buttery or eggy nuances, but there is an airy-ness to them that signals waffles, and given the context of the maple and praline it all makes sense and tastes truly delicious.

image4

When I manage to isolate one of the waffle pieces and eat it on its own, there’s a bit of maple flavor that comes through in the dough as well, which helps drive the overall waffle experience to new heights. While my fantasy flavor may have been pancakes and syrup, I will admit that I think the slightly tougher exterior of a waffle is a better fit for ice cream, and the execution here is about as good as I could hope for.

image6

I had very high expectations for this scoop and it really lived up to them. Baskin Robbins essentially took one of their top five best flavors and added maple and waffles to it – brilliant. This is one that is worth the trip to the shop to try, and my favorite monthly special so far this year.

Rating: 9.5/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($2.99)
Quick Nutrition: 4 oz scoop – 280 cal – 14g fat – 260mg sodium – 34g carb – 27g sugar – 4g protein

image3

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Limited Batch One Love

Nothing says peace and love like ice cream. Maybe I’m biased, but think about it – when was the last time you were leisurely licking away at a scoop shop or comfortably couch-crushing a pint and felt any sort of malice towards anyone around you? How often are people clenching their fists in the frozen aisle or grimacing while staring into the cold case filled with cone-topping delights? Likely never, and it is with that sense of togetherness that Ben & Jerry’s have released their latest limited batch creation with Bob Marley’s One Love, which combines banana ice cream with caramel and graham cracker swirls and fudge peace sings…mon.

image1

It’s already been established that I’m a fan of banana ice cream and this is a great banana base. It’s velvety smooth and creamy with an authentic banana flavor that is just present enough to be very obvious without being overwhelming. Its profile is spot on perfectly ripened, not over-ripened, banana, with a great balance of fruity sweetness and dairy richness.

image2

image3

I’m not sure why, but the fudge peace signs in here really kick ass. They snap with a great chocolatey crunch and finish with a smooth meltiness that feels both creamier and darker than the usual fudge flakes. I don’t know if they actually have different ingredients or it’s just the size and shape of the signs as opposed to the flakes, but these little cocoa circles are truly filling me with good vibrations.

image7

The caramel swirls are wonderfully integrated throughout the base and pool up in gorgeous golden spots throughout the pint. I’ve always loved the play of banana with caramel so it’s no surprise that it works really well here too. The caramel itself is standard B&J’s – thin, runny, and sweet with a mellow flavor – not dark, roasty, or salted at all, and does its job in adding a fun texture and an extra depth to the creamy banana vibes.

image4

Much less prominently featured is the graham cracker swirl, which seems to pop up mostly in tandem with the caramel. It has a soft but gritty texture and noticeable saltiness that cuts through all the other sweet-leaning elements in the pint, but there’s so little of it that it doesn’t become a very pronounced part of the experience. Towards the middle of the container I got a big congregation of graham and it was awesome. As a lover of the graham I wish there was more, but what is there adds something totally different than the other components and its taste and texture are great, despite being limited.

image6

Beautiful layer of graham

One Love is without a doubt my favorite of Ben & Jerry’s releases this year, and one that I would be happy to see stick around for the future. As an ice cream that was originally released as a U.K exclusive, hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for more of their inventive and interesting pints to make their way to the good ole U S of A.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Duc Loi Supermarket ($4.49)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (109g) – 290 cal – 15g fat – 8g sat fat – 115mg sodium – 36g carb – 29g sugar – 4g protein

image5

REVIEW: Caramel Sea Salt Flipz

In the deliciously vast food-scape of sweet and salty there are a few quintessential combos that in my mind define the flavor profile to a T. The first, and the one I go to for arguments sake when people tell me they don’t like sweet and salty, is the chocolate covered pretzel. How can you not like a chocolate covered pretzel? It’s textbook sweet and salty perfection. A crunchy, bread-y, salted snack, covered in creamy, sweet, slightly bitter chocolate. It’s magic to my tastebuds, and most people, once they realize that is the core of sweet and salty, take back their malice and admit its deliciousness.

The other staple, and one that has been very popular for the last five years or so, is salted caramel. Whether taken straight in candy-form, as ice cream, or worked into a pastry, the simple act of adding some salt to cut through the hyper-rich sweetness of caramel creates nothing short of balanced mouth-magic. Even though its trendiness has gotten a bit out of hand, there’s no denying it is fantastic, and it is by the marriage of these two pillars that the ultimate sweet and salty mouthgasm – Caramel Sea Salt Flipz – were born.

image1

The nose on these sparkling bright blue bad boys is sa-WEET. A beautifully recognizable slightly artificial caramel smell tickles my nostrils with delight but there are no obvious cocoa notes to be found. They look a little different than I anticipated too, even though the bag showed me what they would be like, in my mind I pictured a milk chocolate dip drizzled with caramel and salt, but they’re fully submerged in caramel and drizzle with chocolate – makes sense.

image3

These Flipz are SALTY. They start with a lovely smooth and creamy caramel corn sweetness and quickly begin to pop with aggressive bursts of sea salt. My initial feeling is that these may have tipped the scale of sweet and salty too far to salty and sweet, disturbing the perfect balance created by the almighty chocolate pretzel. It takes a lot of saltiness to bully out the intense sugary stature of caramel, but these Flipz are doing it, and certainly aren’t for the faint of heart.

image2

I had some stashed Birthday Cake Flipz on hand to do a quick comparison, and yep, next to the caramel ones the cake Flipz don’t taste salty at all. To be fair they’re probably the sweetest of all Flipz, but my palate has been so rocked by the sea salt explosion that there is no sweet and salty gratification left at the birthday bash.

While these are definitely a very intense snack that not everyone will be able to handle, the more that I ate them they truly grew on me for what they are. By the very nature of already being sweet and salty, it only makes sense that a product with “sea salt” in its name has to take it up a notch. Whether that notch went one step too far will be up to individual taste, but taken in small quantities these are a fun snack, just make sure you’ve got some water or coffee nearby.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Walgreens ($3.99)
Quick Nutrition: 7 pieces – 130 cal – 6g fat – 4.5g sat fat – 150mg sodium – 19g carb – 12g sugar – 2g protein

image4

REVIEW: Three Twins’ Banana Nut Confetti

Apparently I really like banana ice cream. Or maybe I’m just drawn to the less-commonly flavored base that still packs a big sweet punch and doesn’t drown out the elements it’s paired with like chocolate can do. Either way, I was surprised as I was dipping into my cream-stash that this was my fourth banana review in four months. Impressive.

Cali-proud organic churners Three Twins celebrated their 10 year anniversary in 2015 with two ice creams going right for the throat of Ben & Jerry’s – recreating some of their signature flavors with all natural organic ingredients. Banana Nut Confetti combines banana ice cream with walnuts and dark chocolate “confetti” flecks.

image1

The banana flavor in this ice cream is present but relatively mild. It reminds me of a fruit that is almost perfectly ripe but could still use a day or two to fully bloom. You know, it’s not green but it’s pretty firm and there are zero spots to be found. Texturally it’s a bit on the thin and icy side without any dominant creamy mouthfeel or dairy slick. It isn’t awful but it’s pretty underwhelming, and is definitely my least favorite banana ice cream I’ve had this year.

image2

The pieces of walnut are small to medium sized and similarly bland. They’re roasted but not salted and aren’t big enough to translate their unique fatty nut flavor to the spoon. There are hints of that wonderful walnut earthiness but they pop and fade so quickly it’s barely noticeable. I like walnuts in ice cream quite a bit, but they’re so mild here that I wish they were bigger and gave more depth to the pint.

Similarly, the chocolate confetti is in such small pieces there’s no real chocolate presence either. I usually like this kind of flaked chocolate, and it works well in other TT Confetti flavors, but here the pieces add almost nothing to the equation, especially in a situation where the base needs some help. Again, there’s nothing “bad” tasting about the flakes, they’re just incredibly boring.

image3

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Chunky Monkey, and I don’t remember being too impressed by it, but I feel like it has got to be better than this. As admirable as it is to try and show how organic ingredients can be used to make quality ice cream, I think Three Twins should stick to creating their own flavors. The only other time I’ve been this let down by Three Twins was when they put their own spin on Cherry Garcia with Cherry Chocolate Chunk – and that was a disappointing snooze-fest as well.

Rating: 6/10
Found at: Safeway ($4.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (85g) – 180 cal – 11g fat – 6g sat fat – 30mg sodium – 19g carb – 1g fiber – 18g sugar – 1g protein

image4

REVIEW: Ample Hills’ It Came From Gowanus

Gowanus is a largely industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, which was the original home of Dutch settlers in the mid-1600’s and later, the primary backdrop of the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War. As someone that has never been to New York, I don’t know much about the area, but when I hear “Gowanus” I think of a giant brown swamp monster, getting ready to feast on anything that comes across its path. Fittingly to my own mental misinterpretation of the name, Ample Hills’ It Came From Gowanus combines their darkest, saltiest chocolate ice cream with pieces of orange-scented brownies, and hazelnut crack cookies with white chocolate pearls.

image1

This is without a doubt the most aggressively salted ice cream I have ever had and it is nothing short of phenomenal. It is thick, rich, and indulgent with incredibly deep dark chocolate notes and a massive salty flavor that’s hard for my brain to comprehend. The intensity of the ice cream is so grand that it almost doesn’t even feel cold, like the amount of salt has kept the freezer from doing its job and kept the custard frozen yet a silky room temperature without melting. It’s a revelation in cocoa that any chocolate lover needs to experience and is up there with the greatest bases I’ve ever had the joy of tasting. Flavor-wise it hits the highest of highs and the lowest of lows running the full spectrum with a richness that is inescapable.

image2

image3

The intensity of the experience continues with the mix-ins and my mouth continues to be mystified by what I am tasting. I’m not exactly sure what hazelnut crack cookies are but I get some bites of nutty-tasting, almost toffee-esque crunchy cookie bits with a beautiful buttery flavor, and other bites that seem just like a chunk of straight chocolate. The brownies come in varying sizes from little pieces to admirable hunks and have the perfect dense-yet-chewy texture that beautiful brownies can offer. Orange “scented” is the key word here, as there is just a hint of orange flavor poking through the chocolate abyss, and for my taste I wish there was a more dominant citrus pop, as a little bit of relief from the darkness would be a welcome contrast.

image4

There are little white flecks that come across my spoon every so often and I assumed those were some white chocolate, but it turns out they’re little pieces of Saltine crackers – and unfortunately they didn’t really work for me. They’ve gone completely stale in the ice cream and pull me out of the intensely lush trip that Gowanus had sent me on thus far. The actual white chocolate pearls are little choco-coated balls that pop with a fun crispy texture and are mostly on top of the cookies but a few have jumped ship and float alone in the sea of darkness.

image6

image5

It Came from Gowanus is an absolute doctorate-certified lesson plan in how to elevate ice cream to new heights achieving both decadence and masterful artistry at the same time. It’s a shame this flavor is available in such limited quantities outside of New York as it’s a true treat that any frozen food explorer must try.

Rating: 9.5/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com (Taste of NY 4-Pack)

REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Dark Chocolate Mint Fudge Stripes

Just when you thought those funny little Elves had started to dip into the deep end of limited time offerings, they return with another safe, albeit classic and delicious, limited batch flavor – Dark Chocolate Mint. Although I’ve gotta give them credit, they’re definitely throwing a cookie curveball releasing a flavor traditionally served alongside a blanket of snow at a time when most of the country is still sweating in triple digits. It would be like Oreo dropping their long lost Gingerbread cookie in Spring – it just doesn’t make sense, and yet, I can’t help but feel like there’s no wrong time for a taste of Winter.

image1

Opening up the long crinkly package releases an unmistakable aroma – Thin Mints. These striped cookie tires smell almost identical to the Girl Scouts’ classic that also reign supreme during a time of no Winter Wonderland vibes. Maybe Keebler are onto something, as is evidenced by their year round Thin Mint knockoff Grasshoppers – that people get down on the delicious pairing of chocolate and mint whether or not there’s a long branch of mistletoe dangling over their heads.

image2

The taste is also very similar to Thin Mints, a lovely marriage of chocolate and peppermint, just a bit less minty, and more obviously, much creamier because of the great green stripe of fudge along the top. The extra creamy notes also make the cookie register a bit sweeter than Thin Mints or Grasshoppers, with a heartier, deeper crunch and satisfying smoothness. The stripe on these cookies feels less notoriously waxy than their older siblings with a less hardened texture that provides a more legitimate creaminess than what I know and generally love from some Stripes.

Honestly, there’s not too much more to say about these cookies. The balance of peppermint sharpness to cooling sweetness is on point and it’s a classic pairing that will essentially sell itself. If I had one criticism it would be perhaps to make the cookie a bit more bitter since they used the word “dark” in the title, but overall these are a damn fine grocery cookie that will give anyone a taste of Christmas bliss, even if they’re wearing shorts.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Sent to me by Keebler but spotted at Target and Walmart!
Quick Nutrition: 2 cookies – 140 cal – 6g fat – 4g sat fat – 120mg sodium – 20g carb – 11g sugar – 1g protein

image3