REVIEW: The Bar Shack Custom Gourmet Protein Bars

Have you ever wanted to play God? Yeah, me neither, but when given the opportunity it’s kind of hard to pass up. As a dude who loves a good protein bar I’ve spent many a moment dreaming up flavors I wished my favorite companies would release, and now, I no longer have to dream, I can officially play protein bar God. The Bar Shack are a new online based company that allows anyone to design their own protein bar, made fresh and shipped straight to their door. So when owner Adam hit me up and asked if I would like to give it a shot I said “Hey, call me Jesus!”.

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REVIEW: Kalz Paleo Breakfast Muffins (Banana Chocolate and Tropical Blueberry)

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In September of last year I reviewed a new natural protein bar company called Low Kalz. The brand expanded from small snack-size bars to big paleo breakfast muffins available through Etsy, and they sent me a pack of each flavor to sample. The two flavors they turned into muffins just so happened to be my favorites – Banana Chocolate and Tropical Blueberry. As with the bars the muffins are preservative free and made with few ingredients, most notably almond flour, bananas, and eggs.

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REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Special Stash Marshmallow Moon

The craft ice cream scene is so hot right now that the innovators and grocery store ice cream game changers are coming out of retirement. Ben & Jerry’s, the now Unilever-owned company that created Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and put creative life into the freezer section of your favorite supermarket are beginning to unleash their Special Stash; a super limited run of pints only available online and in small quantities at their scoop shops. The series begins with a third collaboration with Jimmy Fallon, in an apparent ode to MoonPie. Marshmallow Moon is vanilla ice cream with marshmallow and graham swirls and fudge chunks.

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Let’s start off with the good – the graham cracker swirl is phenomenal. It’s salty, buttery, and bursting with golden graham flavor that rivals any elementary school’s snack time dunk contest. It’s the same swirl from Pumpkin Cheesecake and One Love but in much bigger, thicker quantity, which makes it automatically better. The grittiness and slight crunch of the swirl is hands down the best part of this pint and to be honest, kind of its saving grace.

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Now, onto the weakest part of the this flavor, and it’s a big one – the base. Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream is fine, it’s just not really that great, and within the context of this profile it falls pretty flat. Yes, it’s rich and creamy, but the vanilla notes aren’t very pronounced and I don’t get any kind of intriguing pop at all. This vanilla ice cream NEEDS big gobs and chunks of mix-ins for it to work, and while it works well in tandem with the graham, it does a major disservice to the marshmallow by being bland and washing out the subtle nuances of the fun and fluffy ‘mallow. I was very excited to see nice amounts of the marshmallow swirl throughout my pint, but I never got to fully enjoy them. Aside from the textural and temperature differences, it was hard to distinguish the gooey stuff from the base.

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The fudge chunks are big and snappy and tasty but ultimately kind of boring. Again, vanilla and chocolate are such standard fair that unless I got a good amount of the graham this just felt like chocolate chip ice cream with really big chips and relatively average vanilla.

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I love the idea of Ben & Jerry’s doing an ongoing Special Stash series, but this first entry is too safe and an average introduction into something that has a lot more potential than this pint shows. A simple change in base to peanut butter, caramel, malt, or hell, even a vanilla bean with more robust flavor, could have made this a much more solid ice cream. The Special Stash line also comes with a higher price, and at double the cost I usually pay for B&J’s it starts to inch towards the more gourmet small batch stuff. If they want to play that game they’ve gotta put their thinking caps on to push the envelop a little farther and earn my hard earned ice cream dollars.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop ($6.50)

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Cinnamon Vanilla Lucky Charms

Frosty the Snowman is my dude. I’m not sure if it’s normal for kids to latch onto Christmas characters like they would superheros or athletes, but as a youngster I certainly did, and Frosty will forever hold a place in my heart. Every time he came back to life was another chance for a birthday party, and birthday’s mean cake, and cake means fun, and thus, Frosty beats Rudolph. While the latest seasonal release from General Mills may not have an actual Frosty tie-in (Frosty has a button nose and is always smokin’ a pipe), it is proudly reppin’ one of his relatives, and my internal nostalgia switch began to melt as soon as I saw the swirly blue box for Cinnamon Vanilla Lucky Charms.

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I’m gonna cut straight to the chase on this one – these Lucky Charms are not that spicy. The flavor is nearly identical to the established one kids (and adults?) have been chowing down on since 1964 – slightly sweetened toasted oats and crunchy dehydrated marshmallows. The key difference here is mostly aesthetic, as the usual array of rainbow colors have been replaced by cool wintery shades of blue and white. Snowmen, snowflakes, and snowballs cheerily swim in milk channeling a cool December day instead of the multicolored ending of a leprechaun hunt.

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I’m kind of surprised the cereal pieces don’t have any bite, since the box touts “frosted cinnamon oat cereal” very proudly, and I get zero cinnamon. That being said, there is a bit of cinna-flair in the marshmallows. When I get a spoonful with three or more winter-clad ‘mallows I get a sweet hit of cinnamon, but it’s very brief, and nowhere near the intensity of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Gingerbread Spice Life, or Cinnamon Pebbles. As for the vanilla, I think it goes without saying marshmallows have a vanilla-y flavor automatically, and I don’t detect any more or any less vanilla than I normally would from a box of Charms.

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Look, this cereal may not have the big cinnamon flavor that I had hoped for, but I cannot deny that Lucky Charms are still, in fact, magically delicious. The slight presence of spice in the marshmallows takes nothing away from the original recipe, and adds just a touch of holiday whimsy the ‘mallow-heavy bites. I’m slightly disappointed but I’m charmed by Lucky, and I’m a sucker for anything with cinnamon in it, even if it’s just a gentle whisper.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Target ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins’ Tiramisu

Tiramisu directly translates to “cheer me up” in Italian, and that’s pretty much how I feel about not only tiramisu, but damn near any ice cream I get the privilege of trying. Tiramisu holds a special place in my heart, as it’s become a pre-Christmas tradition for my girlfriend and I after a lovely meal of cioppino, and ice cream holds the biggest place in my heart of all foods. Needless to say, my heart feels like it’s about to explode with the latest Flavor of the Month from Baskin Robbins. Their take on Tiramisu is tiramisu-flavored ice cream with cake pieces, chocolate flakes, and a decadent chocolate coffee ribbon.

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Off the jump the tiramisu base tastes like everything it should. It’s a solid combination of chocolate and coffee that is not at all shy with its strong espresso notes. The texture is incredibly rich and creamy like tiramisu’s whipped mascarpone. While it isn’t cheesy persay, I wouldn’t call the actual dessert cheesy either, and the overall profile really works. The bitter coffee flavor is beautifully balanced by the sweetness, and while I was hesitant of a “tiramisu flavored” ice cream, BR really dialed in the flavors of one of the best Italian desserts.

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Amplifying the solid foundation laid by the base is the chocolate coffee ribbon, which adds an even darker, more bitter coffee presence and syrupy sweetness that is divine. It channels the intense depth of the usually soaked lady fingers so well that I actually get a bit of a sharp boozy component coming through that is unexpected for a mainstream scoop.

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The semisweet chocolate pieces add some very welcome textural contrast with a nice crunch and solid chocolate flavor. They’re evenly dispersed through the ice cream and help bring the much needed chocolate component to achieve a wonderful sweet and bitter balance with the strong coffee flavor.

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Cake pieces swimming in rich dairy seems like it would be a perfect substitution for tiramisu’s soaked lady fingers and they absolutely are. Soft, chewy, and slightly sweet, the cake pieces hold up their end of the dessert emulation wonderfully. Some of the cake pieces get caught up in the coffee ribbon and the combination of the two flavors reminds me of the cocoa powder dusting on top of a lovely slice of Italy’s finest. Such great flavor I was transported straight to a cozy evening in North Beach.

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While this may not be a new flavor, it’s one executed very well and worthy of its spot in the flavor of the month rotation. Whether you’re a fan of tiramisu, coffee flavored desserts, or just a damn good scoop of ice cream, this is one worth a visit to your local Baskin Robbins.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins ($2.99)

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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: 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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