It’s National Ice Cream Month!

While in my heart I’m a true autumn boy who loves the leaves falling, early darkened skies, and cinnamon-all-in-my-everything aesthetic of October through December, I also have a secret soft spot for July, also known as National Ice Cream Month.  Yes, I know that on social media every day is another #something day, but honoring the sacred tradition of the scoop is an actual holiday, signed into public law by Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1984.  With National Ice Cream Day coming just one week from today, on Sunday July 16, this week the skillet is going full on ice cream with nothing but dreamy, melty, delicious ice cream reviews.

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While it’s pretty evident if you’ve read anything on this site I don’t need an excuse to enjoy some ice cream, but for those of you that may need a little extra encouragement this could be a great time to go and share a scoop with someone you love.  Many shops will have specials, some will be crowded, but be honest – when has going out for ice cream ever not been awesome?  It’s one of my favorite activities, especially with this little lady, the renowned Sil B:

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What are your favorite ice cream flavors?  Or ice cream brands?  Do you have any memories associated with ice cream?  Chocolate ice cream is America’s favorite dessert, but I know you’ve got a better flavor than that – hit me with it!

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REVIEW: Little G X MdoughW’s Slutty MdoughW

As much as I love Oreo’s I’m not one of those weirdos that thinks Cookies ’N Cream is the best ice cream flavor. Sure, emulating the cookie-dunked-in-milk experience in a tub of creamy goodness is delicious, but no caramel? No peanut butter? No cake? No sweet and salty? It could never be the top dawg for me. That being said, I will never turn away from letting Little G try and change my mind, and for their collaboration with MdoughW they released Slutty MdoughW, which combines a vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate chunk brownie mdoughw pieces and house made chocolate sandwich cookies.

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Opening this pint it is visually perfect. A glowing white base with big swirling chunks of chocolate cookies – a stunning balance of light and dark. The vanilla base is spot on with a lovely smooth consistency and beautiful vanilla flavor that is everything I want from a vanilla bean ice cream. This is probably the best tasting vanilla I’ve had from Little G and the base breathability is immaculate with areas of pure vanilla that give me the creamy satisfaction I want.

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The house made chocolate sandwich cookies, aka Oreo’s, but actually aka mini whoopie pies, are in varying sizes but predominantly classic Little G-sized chunks that that take over my spoon and work in perfect harmony with the base. The balance is absolute perfection, with the softened wafers and vanilla notes channeling the dunked-Oreo goodness to a T.

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While the mdoughw’s are called “chocolate chunk brownie”, they actually remind me a bit more of cookie dough than brownies, and add a little bit of lightness to the overall experience. They don’t have the buttery brown sugar flavor of cookie dough but they do have the chewy soft texture with pockets of crunchy chips that leads my tastebuds more down the cookie path than brownie. The cookie vibes work really well with the amplified cookies ’n cream theme and are a delicious less dark counterpart to the soft, more cocoa-heavy sandwich cookies – a combo that has proven vastly successful in Ben & Jerry’s Milk and Cookies.

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Simply put, this is the most perfect Cookies ’N Cream ice cream I have ever had, and is a truly elevated version of an old school scoop shop classic. Furthermore, I think this may be one of the most thought out, balanced flavors I’ve ever had from Little G, equally showcasing the stellar base quality and massive mix-ins that make ordering craft cream worth every penny. It’s a shame this pint was available for such a limited time because it demonstrates just how good a basic flavor can be when executed with finesse and top notch ingredients.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.goldbely.com (use code seanpancake0 for $25 off of your first order!)

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REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Matcha Joe Joe’s

Green tea is one of the oldest, most comforting, soothing, and healthy warm drinks to seek out when needing a little caffeine or immunity boost. As traditional as the beverage is, that hasn’t stopped all types of innovative uses for the ground up matcha powder that packs a huge antioxidant and energy boost. Green tea ice cream? Awesome. Green tea lattes? Great. Green tea cake? Delicious. The ways in which we can use the grassy flavor knows almost no bounds, and in this day and age of limited-time insanity it’s time for an ultimately portable version of this earthy treat. I’ve always been fond of Trader Joe’s products but they really impressed the hell outta me with their Mocha Joe Joe’s earlier this year, and I’m looking at them to pave the way for the crunchy version of this tea-treat. Continuing their trend of beating Nabisco to the punch with innovative-yet-obvious flavors, they’re back in the drivers seat with Matcha Joe Joe’s, which pair a green tea matcha creme with crunchy vanilla wafer cookies.

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I’m not sure if it’s just the thickness of the wafers themselves, but Joe Joe’s just seem bigger than their big bro Oreo, and these cookies are simply pleasant to look at. Deep white vanilla wafers with lushly green creme make me excited to dig in, and the grassy tea notes waft with ease from the package.

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Biting in this cookie is everything I wanted it to be. A super snappy vanilla cookie gives way to immaculately balanced creme that is a textural delight. The filling is extremely smooth, soft, and creamy with an absolutely spot on balance of earthy matcha notes that don’t get bitter or astringent in the slightest. Green tea is front and center without any of the potential negatives that could pull this flavor down, delivering all the joy of green tea ice cream in a vessel that won’t melt in my pocket. The sweetness is perfectly executed with the vanilla cookie bringing just the right sugary punch to accentuate the matcha flavor without drowning it out, and finishes with a lovely buttery note that puts a lovely green ribbon on the whole experience.

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Once again TJ’s deliver an elevated, delicious, and fun Joe Joe that is just as crave-able as it is unique. The flavors are simple, straight forward, and just sweet enough to go wonderfully with a good cup of coffee, but not so much that they need the coffee to be enjoyed.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Trader Joe’s ($2.99)

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REVIEW: TastyKake Birthday Kake and Blueberry Mini Donuts

TastyKake are gunning for sweet summer nostalgia with a line of fun festive snack cakes bursting with berries and sunshine. While many of these cellophane-wrapped beauties are very hit or miss, mini donuts tends to really speak to my soul with their traditional ‘murican breakfast appeal and fun sized pop-ability. To welcome long days and short nights TastyKake blessed us with both Birthday Kake and Blueberry Mini Donuts, and I’m gonna have me a two-for-one mouth party.

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The Birthday Kake donuts, visually, are a real deal fiesta. They’re a spin on the classic mini crunch donut, but instead of being studded with crumbs of tan and brown, they’re an explosive sprinkle mix of blue, red, green, orange, and pink. The smell doesn’t immediately channel cake, but it doesn’t smell of coconut or cinnamon the way most crunch mini’s smell, and clearly they’re a different birthday beast.

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The texture is middle of the road – not super dry but also not the smoothest or moistest bagged donut I’ve had. The bite is soft with some crunch but not particularly exciting, and there isn’t nearly as much vanilla flavor as I anticipated with the big visual pop. To be honest, nothing about the flavor screams cake here aside from a touch of eggy-ness that hints at yellow cake, but not enough to truly satisfy. There are no elements of frosting or dominant vanilla that would truly channel a celebratory slice, and while they don’t taste bad, they’re ultimately kind of boring and nothing to don a pointy party hat for.

Rating: 5.5/10

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The Blueberry donuts are a summer-y spin on the standard powdered variety, with a good dose of coke white shimmer on the outside and a pretty purple on the inside. The smell is immediately big and bright with an intense sweetness and pretty authentic blueberry notes that seem more promising than the usual hyper-artificial flavors that go hand in hand with other berries (like strawberry).

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The texture on these ‘nuts is fantastic. Super soft and moist, they almost melt in my mouth when I bite in with a lovely squish that screams fresh summer delight. The blueberry is very assertive and sweet, with just a slight tartness that keeps them from going overboard. Make no mistake, they’re covered in sugar so they’re quite sweet, but the execution of the blueberry prevents the donut from being a single sugary note. While there are no actual pieces of blueberries like in a blueberry muffin, the flavor is dialed in and delicious and when it comes to the fruit-emulation game these are a real winner.

Rating: 8/10

*Disclosure*  These donuts were graciously sent to me by the folks at TastyKake but the cost of the cakes in no way influenced my opinion of them!

REVIEW: Little G’s Triple Cookie Dough

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. A now scoop shop staple available at nearly every standard ice cream shop in existence, and brought to life by Ben & Jerry’s in 1984 via an anonymous flavor suggestion in their original Burlington store. Generally combining pieces of cookie dough with a vanilla base, leave it to Little G to kick it into hyper speed and take the classic to new, bold heights. For their version of the iconic concoction, Little G takes a vanilla bean base and loads it with a triple threat of chocolate chip cookie dough, double chocolate chip cookie dough, and sugar cookie dough.

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The vanilla bean ice cream is absolutely spot on. Smooth and creamy with solid sweetness and a density that feels tremendously rich and buttery. I’m always a big fan of ample vanilla bean dots and the little black specks are noticeable from the jump and add a delicious authentic vanilla flavor that balances the amount of sugar beautifully. While this pint is absolutely loaded with dough, the mix in density is spot on and the base has room to breathe (“base breathability) so you can appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the ice cream itself – something I always enjoy no matter how good the mix ins or swirls may be.

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Each of the three cookie doughs in the pint have a distinct flavor and they’re all delicious. My favorite of the three is the sugar cookie dough, which cuts through the base with a prominent saltiness that plays with buttery notes and is purely fun to eat. It’s decadent and naughty and feels every bit as bad boy as eating a stick of butter dipped in sugar. The double chocolate chip cookie dough is a chocolate explosion, with a good amount of chips stuck into a solid brick of cocoa laced doughy goodness. I don’t love the cookie dough as much as Grace’s brownies, but as far as a double chocolate dough goes this is up there with the best I’ve had in ice cream, not to mention it’s far less common, so bonus points for that.

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The standard chocolate chip cookie dough has a more golden flavor than the sugar dough from the use of brown sugar, and has little pieces of chocolate that give it a bit of a boosted crunch. It has the perfect cookie dough essence I want inside of ice cream and it’s like all the other doughs I’ve had but just executed perfectly. I was kind of disappointed I only had two pieces of CCCD in this pint, and I wanted a bit more of balance, but I was happy with the way the dough was able to differentiate itself on taste alone, and will take more sugar cookie over chocolate cookie any day.

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The only thing I would change about this flavor is making the dough pieces a bit smaller. This is easily amended with some side of spoon cutting action, but I like the dough in tandem with the ice cream and when taking the chunks as they’re presented they dominant the bite in a way that makes it challenging to get a balanced spoon. As with all Little G ice creams this one is high quality and really fun to eat, and if you gravitate towards cookie dough at your local scoop shop you’ve gotta put this on your list when you order.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.goldbely.com (use code seanpancake0 for $25 off of your first order!)

REVIEW: Honey Bunches of Oats Pecan & Maple Brown Sugar

I’ll never forget when I was first introduced to Honey Bunches of Oats. Although I don’t remember the exact day, I remember being taken aback by a cereal that was a legitimate bridge between the sweet technicolor bowls I always wanted and the boring brown clumps my dad tried to force feed me. Honey Bunches represented a turning of the tides, an exercise in compromise, and a cereal that was legitimately tasty without any marshmallows. I loved the original Honey flavor and Almond, and have dabbled in the various berry editions as well, but when Post dropped their latest creation I knew I had to try it. Honey Bunches of Oats Pecan and Maple Brown Sugar combines all of the best elements of breakfast (except donuts) and puts them into one crispy crunchy bowl.

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The cereal is a tonal range of tan colors and has a relatively short list of ingredients to achieve this brown-bo of sorts. There’s straight ahead corn flakes, lightly sweetened corn flakes, some somehow crisped up looking whole oats, and those beautiful little pecan bunches. Some of the bunches are more granola-heavy and some of them have more visible pieces of pecans. The mixture carries a lovely sweet and nutty maple pecan scent with a cutting undercurrent of corn.

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Tasting the cereal dry is everything I want it to be – crunchy, nutty, maple-y, and only slightly sweet. As with all Honey Bunches varieties the different elements compliment each other very well and balance each other out for consecutive cohesive bites that pop with the occasional big cluster. I’m not sure how they do it but I always felt there was a creaminess to Honey Bunches cereals that not many other had. Maybe it’s the inclusion of small pieces of nuts, but I get a wonderful smooth vanilla presence here that I also get in the original Almonds flavor and it’s a real treat.

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Bringing milk to the party softens some of the sweet maple notes and drives up the corn-y flake flavors. While I feel like the sweetness was perfect in the dry cereal, with the additional moisture I could use just a touch more sweetness, especially in regards to the maple, to hold up to the sogg-ing effect of the milk. The corn flakes are very thin and soften pretty quickly, while the clusters hold their own and stand strong against the milk. The more that I eat the cereal the more I realize I want more pecans. The pecans are mostly in small pieces and end up getting lost in the flurry of milk and flakes. I wish they were bigger and I wish the corn flakes got less floppy but I also wish my bowl would refill itself automatically because I just love eating this stuff.

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Honey Bunches of Oats are a classic cereal that should hypothetically please all palates at the breakfast table. I love the maple flavor in this new version but don’t think I would put it above the OG Almond because of the backseat the pecans take as compared to the prominent amount of almond slivers in the classic blue box . All in all you will not be disappointed putting this cereal into milk, onto ice cream, or simply into a ziplock bag for snacking all day long.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Safeway ($3.99)

REVIEW: Salted Caramel Oreo Thins

It’s already been well established that sweet and salty is one of the greatest flavor combos known to man, so naturally, salted caramel is one of the more readily available flavor profiles that really gets my digestive juices flowin’. Shockingly, as popular as this pairing has been in recent years, Nabisco overlooked making a salted caramel Oreo in favor of, you know, cotton candy, root beer float, and rainbow sherbet – BUT NO MORE!! …sort of. To get our beach bods prepped for long summer nights, Oreo have hit us with Salted Caramel Oreo Thins.

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I like Oreo Thins, but straight up the flavor on these limited slimmies is simply not strong enough. The package lets out a nice artificial caramel smell that channels packaged caramel corn mixed with the golden vanilla of the Oreo wafer and a hint of carnival nostalgia. Biting in as a whole the cookie has a verrrry subtle caramel flavor with a touch of saltiness that makes the overall experience a bit less sweet than the regular Golden Thin but not really venturing into the “salted caramel” territory proper. They actually remind me of a more muted version of the recent Waffles & Syrup Oreo the way that they hint at graham cracker and are generally sweet but with a deeper flavor than you would find in white cookies with white creme.

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Isolating the creme on its own is similarly disappointing. There’s definitely more caramel flavor that comes through without the two cookies, but even on its own the flavor isn’t particularly pronounced. It’s almost as though even on its own there isn’t enough creme to properly translate a more complex flavor like salted caramel. Eating the cookie open faced style is more of the same, but with the saltiest presence of the different methods – maybe the hint of cookie plus creme gives the best sodium punch as this is the only way any kind of “salted” caramel comes through for me.  Fortunately the creme is very easy to peel off and when I stacked two layers of creme into one sando the combo worked surprisingly well.  The flavor was both salty AND caramel-y and the texture felt thick and dense like caramel too – an easy, successful fix!

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While I was initially pretty excited to see some flavor twists on the Oreo Thins line, the execution here makes me wonder if doing special releases with so little creme and cookie to work with can actually be successful. If Nabisco wants to venture down this path again they need to use bolder flavors that will cut through in smaller quantities like their Lemon Thins, rather than flavors that can be easily muddled like salted caramel. The recently re-released full size Key Lime Pie and Blueberry Pie Oreo creme’s would work really well here, making a light, crispy, refreshing cookie treat, and I’m confident the smaller amount of filling would still pop against the thin golden wafer.

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

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