REVIEW: Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel

Now that it’s officially the last week of July it’s time to get those spice-engines-a-revvin’. Sure, there’s bound to be some more beautiful berries in my future, but from August through December it’s a lock for my tastebuds to get warm and cuddly. Aside from the ever-prominent pumpkin spice and gingerbread, nothing screams spicy splendor quite like speculoos, and when you put that flavor into an ice cream? Real summer finale fireworks potential. Tillamook’s Speculoos Cookie Caramel combines a speculoos cookie butter ice cream with cinnamon spiced cookie crumbles and caramel.

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REVIEW: Fudge Covered Ritz Crackers

There are some food combinations that aren’t super obvious, but are super delicious. Peanut butter and bananas, strawberries and black pepper, Coca Cola and red wine, pineapple and pizza (controversial, I know, but I’m a fan), etc. Additionally, it can be stated that if you put chocolate on almost anything it becomes instantly better. Welcome to your life the next flavor combination you didn’t know you needed but you really truly do – Fudge Covered Ritz Crackers.

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As a certified graduate of the school of sweet and salty, I must tell you immediately that these are pure fire. They aren’t new, in fact they’ve been around since 2011, but if you’ve been sleeping on them you need to wake up and toss a box in your cart the next time you’re perusing the grocery store during the holidays (right now). This is less of a review and more of a call to action – I want you to understand.

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The concept is as simple as can be – take a standard Ritz cracker and cover it in chocolate fudge. The secret to the success is that Nabisco nailed the ratios of chocolate to cracker and used a decently high quality chocolate coating to seal the deal. The outer fudge layer isn’t thin but it also isn’t so thick that it dominates the entire profile. There’s a lovely balance of the crumbly buttery texture with pops of saltiness from the Ritz on the inside and creamy sweetness on the outside. The experience is a lot like a chocolate covered graham cracker but much softer, and as a result, undeniable.

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While they may not be peppermint or gingerbread or eggnog or anything you might relate to the holidays, Fudge Covered Ritz truly channel the magical feelings of Christmas. There’s something comforting and nostalgic in the flavor of the cracker that reminds me of staying home from school sick – hookie or otherwise. The cracker’s blanket of nostalgia mixed with a perfect amount of sugary chocolate bliss makes for a product that is so simple yet perfect in every way. Buy them now and snack happy.

Rating: 10/10

Found at: Target ($2.49)

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies

Hot Cocoa is a sweet and creamy treat, usually served to children around the holiday’s to bring warmth and enjoyment to the greatest time of the year. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate base, made with either milk or water, and garnished with sweet melty marshmallows. Oreo cookies are a sweet and crunchy treat, usually served to children around lunch time to bring happiness and enjoyment to the rest of their day. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate cookie base, washed down with either milk or water, and filled with a sweet melty creme. Wait a minute…hot cocoa…Oreo’s…are they…the same thing?! In today’s edition of “Will this Oreo taste like an Oreo?” I present to you – Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo.

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The cookies look and smell different than your standard Oreo. The two-toned nature of the creme gives them an elevated appearance, but they kept the layers relatively small so the overall quantity is much similar to the original than Double Stuf variety. They carry an aroma that’s slightly more creamy and somehow reminds me of fake butter, almost like sticking my face into a tub of margarine. Weird.

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Initially the experience of chompin’ into these cocoa-fueled cookies is essentially the same as any other Oreo – a crispy bittersweet wafer with a sweeter, smoother creme in the middle. The amount of filling is kind of lackadaisical for me, especially coming after last month’s super plump Mystery Oreo, but then something interesting happens on the finish. While the flavor isn’t huge, the flavor on the end is definitely different than a regular Oreo, with a creamy, light, marshmallow-leaning note that does remind me of hot chocolate. You know that weird powdery hot chocolate mix with the very milk chocolate-y flavor and hard mini marshmallows? That’s the flavor I’m getting here, but it really only fights its way through at the very end.

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These are a perfect example of a middle tier Oreo that aren’t bad, but aren’t really that much different or really any better than the classic version. They definitely taste like hot cocoa,but the base profiles are so similar from the start that there isn’t a ton of intriguing variance. Nabisco tends to come through with a couple of these a year, and I don’t mind it because with over ten new limited editions I never buy regular Oreo…ever…and these are a nice replacement for that. Much like other slight twists on the established classic, like Filled Cupcake, or this years Fireworks, Hot Cocoa Oreo’s are a tasty cookie worthy of accompaniment to Santa’s tall glass of milk, but not worth trampling people Black Friday style to get them into your pantry.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Trader Joe’s and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe Joe’s

Yes, it’s January, and technically the holiday season has come and gone, but there are such an insane amount of delicious seasonal products released every year that sometimes it takes a little longer than December 25 to get to them all.  This could end up being my last Christmas-y write up of the year, and fortunately, it’s a good one.  Trader Joe’s have done something I have always wished Nabisco would do with Oreo’s – released a variety pack.  This, however, is no ordinary variety pack, this is the “Trader Joe’s and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe Joe’s” variety pack featuring four different sandwich cookies, covered in different chocolate, and garnished with additional texture/flavor boosts.

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Let me start off by saying there isn’t a bad cookie in the box, and I am going to attempt to talk about each one and rate them somewhat based off of each other because honestly they all kick ass.

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First up is the only one you can get in a separate package outside of this box – the Peppermint Joe Joe in Dark Chocolate with Peppermint Sprinkles.  It should come as no surprise that this one is awesome, since Candy Cane Joe Joe’s are one of the best seasonal cookies TJ’s offers, it’s a no brainer to amplify those flavors even more and they simply slap even harder.  The dark chocolate is rich and indulgent, with the peppermint “sprinkles” on top actually being crushed up pieces of candy cane that give crunch and an extra mint boost.  Completely crave-able and delicious, the only thing I can fault this one on is the dark chocolate coating mutes a bit of the mint bite from the creme and the “sprinkles” don’t add enough to really take the minty-ness over the top.  Still, an absolute winter wonderland in your mouth.
Rating: 9/10.

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Next we have one of my favorite flavor combinations ever with PB&C – Peanut Butter Joe Joe in Milk Chocolate with Dark Chocolate Drizzle.  Chocolate and PB is an automatic win and this cookie basically transforms the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup into cookie – beautiful round shape and all.  As much as I was looking forward to this one it didn’t give me the depth of peanut butter flavor I had hoped for, once again being a bit muted by the chocolate cookie and double chocolate coating.  One of the best aspects of a solid peanut butter cup is the ratio of PB to chocolate and I’ve never been a fan of a cup that gets too chocolate dominant, which happens here.  Again, still completely delicious but some of the fatty nutty nuances of the peanut get lost in the drizzle party.
Rating: 8/10

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The third cookie in the lineup is the most unique and by far the one I was most excited to try – it was actually the push that came to shove that convinced me to spend $6.99 on this box of brilliance – Ginger Joe Joe in White Chocolate with Ginger Sprinkles.  I absolutely love white chocolate when it’s executed well and ginger is one of my favorite flavors of the festive season (or anytime, really).  I have never tried a naked Ginger Joe Joe so I’m not sure how this one stacks up but the first flavor I got was lemon.  I’m don’t know if this is a weird mind trick from the flavor play of the ginger and white chocolate together but the initial bite reminded me of that lemony cookie flavor you get from a box of Barnum’s Animals crackers.  The white chocolate is smooth and sweet, and on the finish you get a pleasant little dance of ginger that gets extra heightened when a bite with the gingersnap crumbles comes into the picture.  The flavor on this one really seemed to vary depending on the amount of sprinkles, with either just enough, or not enough ginger spiciness to mellow out the white chocolate.
Rating: 8.5/10

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Finally, last but definitely not least, the one I was least looking forward to and took me by surprise – Double Chocolate Joe Joe in Dark Chocolate with a Milk Chocolate Drizzle.  This cookie is a perfect example of don’t dog it till you’ve tried it, because while I expected this to be a relatively one-note boring experience it ended up being my favorite in the whole box and absolutely perfect.  The layers of chocolate on chocolate give a rich, almost brownie-like flavor and texture to the cookie, with the variations between the creme, wafer, and coating being more distinct than in the other three Joe Joe’s.  This cookie channels all of the greatest chocolate indulgences, reminding me of not only brownies but layer cakes, truffles, and candy bars.  It’s got the kind of cocoa richness and depth you would expect from a high end chocolate shop like See’s or Godiva, not a cardboard box of cookies from a grocery store.
Rating: 10/10

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The whole happy family

It took me awhile to review this product, not only because each cookie has 130 calories and 11 grams of sugar, but because I wanted to give each one its proper due in how they not only stood on their own but how they fit in in relation to the others in the box as well.  During the holiday’s Trader Joe’s becomes awash with an insane amount of high quality limited time products and these astounding Joe Joe’s are no exception.  Highly recommended, highly delicious, highly dangerous.

Overall rating: 9/10

REVIEW: Tastykake Gingerbread Mini Donuts

There’s nothing quite like a powdered mini donut.  Packaged in a roll of six from a dark vending machine or lonely gas station, the tube of sugary delight never fails to deliver a messy Scarface-like experience of pure sweetness.  The only problem with these types of donuts is that despite their fun fluffy texture they’re relatively one dimensional when it comes to flavor – straight sugar.  Just in time for the holidays Tastykake have solved this issue with Gingerbread Mini Donuts.

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Unlike their lighter-colored year round sibling, the gingerbread version of Tastykake’s donuts deliver a wallop of spicy layers to back up their already perfect bouncy texture.  Rather than being covered in a dusting of powdered sugar, these donuts are taken up a notch with a robust shaking of ginger and cinnamon that erupts from the bag and translates just as convincingly to the tongue.  You don’t have to search for any traces of gingerbread as you can see the specks of brown all over the donut and the flavors completely smack you in the face to finish with spice-dominance that makes me think they used cloves in the mix as well.  The ginger here isn’t the raw ginger that tingles in your nose, but more of a ground ginger blended with cinnamon that meshes perfectly with the powdered sugar to create the ideal seasonal spice.

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Additionally, the clever snack-ologists at Tastykake have put some kind of spice into the donut dough as well, as you can see little brown dots mixed in with a darker-than-usual cake that hints more towards tan than yellow.

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The two-toned punch of spiced cake and spiced powder makes these incredibly successful and a worthy shakeup from the usual donette.  Whether it be Tastykake or Hostess or Little Debbie I’ve never found any flavors of mini donuts to be truly worth it aside from the classic powdered or chocolate, but these ones give both of those a run for their money.  More complex than any that have come before them but equally satisfying in their junky splendor, these Gingerbread ‘nuts are a slam dunk worthy of your Christmas calories.

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Mint Brussels

Although Milano’s get all the love as the Pepperidge Farm poster child, I am of the opinion that the the lesser loved Brussels are the true GOAT of their cookie lineup.  Sure, the Milano is classic and definitely delicious with its fluffy yet crumbly exterior, but nothing can top the crunchy caramelized sugar cookies nuzzling a snappy layer of dark chocolate that is the Brussel.  Fortunately for Brussel-lovers like myself, this year they got a holiday makeover with the limited edition Mint Brussels.

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In good taste Pepperidge Farm have decided not to mess too much with a winning combo and have simply added a layer of mint on top of the already present dark chocolate.  The mint has a nearly identical firm but smooth texture as the dark layer, and comes across like a mint flavored white chocolate, which helps to maintain the already successful and delightful crunch of the original cookie.  Biting in you get that wonderful sugar crunch a la the top of a creme brûlée that is sweet but not cloying at all.  Pairing perfectly with a cup of coffee or black tea, these cookies live up the the reputation Pepperidge Farm have for delivering the most sophisticated and “adult” tasting treats you can find in the grocery store.

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Chocolate and mint are a classic combo that works extremely well but is surprisingly easy to mess up.  Oftentimes the mint can be too strong and overpower and other flavors battling for your tastebuds, but these Brussels have managed to hit the balance almost perfectly, with just a touch to be desired.  If I can fault these cookies in any way I would want just a hint more mint from them.  It feels like splitting hairs because one of my biggest pet peeves is a mint cookie or dessert that leaves my mouth with a toothpaste tingle, but the Pepperidge Farm folks could have put a touch more mint into the mix and they would have really sung flawlessly.

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Apparently Mint Brussels used to exist with some form of regularity and were discontinued around 2009, but for me these are brand new and I hope they won’t be disappearing as a limited release anytime soon.  Fingers crossed these cookies sell well and 2017 will bring us new limited flavors like the Milano’s get, who have everything from Lemon to Dulce De Leche available year round.

Rating: 8.5/10

REVIEW: Fit Joy Winter Peppermint Bark

Ho ho ho!  Not content with leaving the biggest holiday of the year with only one cheat clean savior, Fit Joy have taken a stab at the mid-2000’s favorite chocolate fad with Winter Peppermint Bark.
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Immediately and unmistakably this bar screams Christmas. The aroma of white chocolate and peppermint twirl and whirl their way out of the wrapper like ballerinas in the Nutcracker while red mint flavored crisps line the top like lights on a tree. Unfortunately, after taking your first delicious bite you’re left wondering whether you just kissed the sugar plum fairy or took a secret swig off of some 100 proof peppermint schnapps – this thing is MINTY.

Much like Fit Joy‘s initial Mint Chocolate Crisp bar, the peppermint in the bark version is still too strong. Peppermint extract (“natural flavor”) is such a sharp flavor that it can be easily overdone, and this bar suffers in that regard. What works here, though, is that the yogurt dipped vanilla-y presence of the rest of the bar helps hold back some of the mint rush and is much more balanced than the brands first minty attempt. Whereas Mint Chocolate Crisp hit with the force of a York peppermint patty, this bar simply tastes like a peppermint bark where the chef got a little buzzed and heavy handed with the mint.

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Had Fit Joy rolled back about 20% of the mint flavor they would have had a second seasonal home run on their hands. Still gotta give them credit for tackling a white chocolate/vanilla/etc twist on peppermint and not just being content with a single limited release.

Rating: 7/10