Review: Crispy M&M’s Chocolate Bar

The last few years I’ve noticed a strange trend in candy that I didn’t think I’d ever get behind…suddenly everybody’s trying to make original iconic snacks into other things, hoping the name will sell the products. Oreo candy bars (which I found disappointing) and Sour Patch Kids cereal (which were straight up abysmal) are some noteworthy examples.

Then there’s this weird thing where Mars is trying to sell chocolate bars under the M&M’s name, no candy shell involved. Since Mars didn’t really have a solid chocolate bar product until that point, I can see where they were coming from. But from what I could see as a merchandiser at the time, the sales weren’t there with that product.

But now things are looking up for Mars and their M&M’s candy bars. They’ve ditched the plain old chocolate bar model and gone back to what they do well, which is dress chocolate up!

These new embellished M&M chocolate bars come in different flavors, one for each major variety of the beloved candy-coated morsels. As of now I’ve only tried the Crispy variety, since neither mint or peanuts appeal to me. But there are those plus a couple other varieties and judging from my experience with this one I’d say they’re all probably worth trying within the walls of whatever your tastes are.

This bar has the perfect proportion of crispy, crunchy and creamy. Milk chocolate with crispy rice reminiscent of, of course, a crispy M&M, and delightfully dotted with M&M’s Mini’s (my favorite of the M&M’s family.)

There’s also a certain way to eat this bar that extends the enjoyment, at least for me. When it comes to foods with multiple components such as cereals with marshmallows or chocolate covered anything, I usually have a specific order of operations that enhances the experience. Here I found that letting the chocolate melt away in my mouth first leaves room for a great follow-up experience of having the Mini’s and rice crisps to chew and enjoy together. With most chocolate-covered things the chocolate melts and is swallowed first, leaving you with a mouthful of whatever it was covering. This is where the M&M’s Mini’s come in clutch, because they actually reintroduce more chocolate back into the situation! That second round of chocolatey goodness is brilliant and earns a ton of brownie points from me.

I didn’t give the whole M&M’s candy bar thing a lot of credit at first, but now that they’re adding all these goodies in I definitely have to change my vote! Now I just have to decide when to address the new fantasy I have of warming one up a bit and pressing the entire bottom side into a bowl of Mini’s. M&M’s Mini’s bark…coming soon to my kitchen!

Thumbs way up for this bar.

Review: Carrot Cake Oreos

I promised a review of these a while back and never delivered, but I keep my promises even if it’s belated. So, here we go!

Let me start by saying there isn’t much carrot cake-ness to these at all. Although I didn’t hate them, I felt letdown that they tasted nothing like any carrot cake I’ve ever eaten. That aside, here’s my evaluation of the flavor they do have:

The cookie is surprisingly bold with a sharp cinnamon and ginger taste (not remotely like carrot cake but not bad otherwise.) It makes the whole ensemble come across sort of like a gingersnap with creme filling.

Ugh, the filling.

::Insert deep, mournful sigh here::. A good cream cheese frosting creme could potentially have saved these cookies, but alas it was poorly executed and was a total flop for me. There are multiple ways of disassembling and eating an Oreo, and the way I usually go about it does not work out with these. There’s a weird sort of twang to the cream cheese frosting-flavored filling when eaten separately, so my normal procedure of pulling the cookie apart, licking half the filling out first and then eating the rest together suddenly became a no-go. That weird dimension is something I thankfully didn’t really notice when I eat both parts together, so at least it wasn’t totally impossible to enjoy these. However, I’m definitely all set with eating the middle by itself.

I know a select few out there will argue that the creme is not the best part of the Oreo, but it’s undeniable that it is what makes the Oreo an Oreo. I’m not saying I’d turn them down if I were craving something sweet and there was nothing else around. But messing up the flavor of the most integral aspect of the cookie is a pretty big screwup that’s enough to keep me from buying these a second time.

In closing, I’m going to throw Nabisco a bone here. It strikes me as I write this that to be fair, carrot cake itself doesn’t taste much (if at all) like carrots, so in that sense I guess these didn’t entirely miss the mark! They at least succeeded in following in the footsteps of their namesake…by tasting nothing at all like you’d expect. So I guess that earns them a couple points?

Burger King’s Funnel Cake Fries

Gather ’round, kids…it’s story time. Today? Burger King’s Funnel Cake Fries.

I’d originally decided to wait on writing this until I’ve also tried McDonald’s Donut Sticks, another fast food breakfast delicacy along the same lines. But my readers seem eager to hear by evaluation of this re-release–funnel cake fries were originally introduced in 2009 but have been in the seasonal treats graveyard ever since–so I’ll spare you the wait on the compare-and-contrast until tomorrow when I try the opposing team’s take.

For now, let’s just talk about Burger King’s situation here. It may seem a little early to be start thinking about outdoor fairs and carnivals, but with seemingly shorter and shorter summer seasons each year, we New Englanders are used to enjoying our outdoor activities even when it’s on the chilly side. So it’s not surprising to me that food establishments are already aiming to appeal to fair-lovers and theme park enthusiasts with things like cotton candy Peeps and fried dough products.

The fries themselves are exactly what they sound like, and well executed. They’re about the same width and thickness as the regular French fries, but you won’t find any potato in these babies. Depending on how well done they are (similar to normal fries, their doneness level is subject to human error-related variance) they range from delightfully crispy to a little crunchy…between two separate tastings I got one set of each. Neither was offputting, although I tend to enjoy things a little less well-done. Taste and texture are definitely on point as far as fried dough and funnel cake expectations go.

Now for my qualms. There are two.

1. They could use a little cinnamon in the batter. Maybe this is just me. Fried dough itself does normally come plain, leaving it up to the consumer what they add to it. Which brings me to my second, and way more important, problem..

2. There’s nothing to go with them! They’re sparingly adorned with powdered sugar, which was sadly clumped around the bottom rather than sprinkled on top. And that’s it! Plain old fried dough.

They need to work on the presentation here. Some icing for dipping would be awesome, but I get it if they want to stick with traditional fried dough toppings. How about some cinnamon sugar on top instead of (or in addition to) the confectioner’s? Especially seeing as the powder starts coagulating and becomes rather ugly once it starts absorbing moisture.

Another thing that could have (but didn’t) saved this situation was better customer service. Both times I asked for maple syrup and was told they didn’t have it, despite the fact that I know they serve it with the pancakes in the morning (am I wrong on this? Maybe not all locations have them?) The drive-thru refusal was a lot more polite and apologetic than the in-store one who acted like I was asking for a roast turkey dinner or fresh caviar. Another problem I had the time that I got them from inside the restaurant was that they refused to even add more powdered sugar to them for me. Exact transcription of events went as follows:

Me: Is it possible to get a little more powdered sugar on top of these?

Employee: No unfortunately not.

Me: (being as nice as possible) You don’t have more you can just sprinkle on top?

Employee: No.

…..okay? Good to know. You don’t have syrup? Fine. Maybe you don’t. But I refuse to believe there was no powdered sugar back there. I just don’t believe it. At the time I wasn’t in the mood to stir the pot, but had it been different timing I would have inquired as to what the situation is with the sugar that prohibits the possibility of distribution any additional amounts to people who need some extra fun in their funnel cakes. Burger King is well on top of for dessert game right now, but if I go back to that location where they treat customers like a nuisance, perhaps I’ll try ordering with a side of manners.

The good news is Burger King’s version of fried dough sticks were enjoyable enough that I actually plan on going and ordering them again. I’ll just have to bring my own sugar!

Cotton Candy Peeps

I recently gave a positive review of Just Born’s Pancakes & Syrup flavor of their famous Peeps candy. This week I’d like to bring you my most recent flavor adventure and [spoiler] my new favorite: Cotton Candy.

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While the illustration on the package reminds me a little of Krum the stubble-covered monster from that cartoon on Nickelodeon who walked around holding his own eyeballs (if you’re not of the Ahh! Real Monsters generation you’ll have to Google it) the chickies themselves are actually sprinkled with tiny blue shards of sugar that have an itty bitty crunch to them when you get them alone–because nothing compliments sugar like MORE sugar!

What I like about the flavored Peeps is that the flavors aren’t overwhelming. It doesn’t actually hit until it gets to the back of your throat, making it closer to being a smell than a flavor, really–so if your nose is stuffed, you likely won’t taste anything at all. This flavor is by far the most unquestionably accurate that I’ve tasted– the maple was pretty distinct in the Pancakes variety, but this one carries a 100% unmistakable cotton candy smell and aftertaste. What you taste while you’re actually chewing/smooshing it in your mouth (chewing doesn’t really feel like the word for a hunk of marshmallow goo) is pretty much the same as you’d taste with any other Peeps– it’s the after taste that’s gold with these.

I give these a 5 out of 5 for Peep fans (and if you’re a hater, well, you know which way to go and this article was never really for you) and since it’s cold season and I care about my fellow sugar-lovers I’ll leave you with this advice: If you’re congested and looking to really taste the cotton candy flavor on these, I’d recommend waiting until you’re cleared out–otherwise you risk wasting valuable Peepage and an awesome flavor you don’t want to miss!

Put Down the Snacks (just for a minute, though)

This post is not about food.

Well, I suppose it concerns food somewhat.

I want to talk about a topic I touch on every once in a while because people ask me: balancing my love of junk food with fitness.

This photo shows me from about 2011 (left) to now (right.)

Left was just after I’d lost a lot of weight. Since then I’ve regained and same 5ish pounds of hodyfat without worrying much about it. People ask me how it is that I’m able to indulge in sweets regularly and go through weeks at a time where I get busy or depressed and miss the gym, all without slipping back nearly as much as you’d expect. HOW? they ask.

It’s because for about two years, I did drastically cut down my junk food consumption. I hardly drank anything besides water and coffee. I lived at the gym. Those years saw me learning a lot about balancing my diet to be always enjoyable while aiming for different levels of strictness and control at different times. I built a foundation by living super lean that I’ve been able to sustain while living more moderately. I still go through what I call re-up periods like what I’m coming up on now, where I eat leaner but more protein, cut out candy, and start going nuts at the gym every spare moment I get. Then I’ll relax again and enjoy life again for a while with the foods I enjoy. Fitness is an ebb and flow, not a static position. You have to be willing to double down at times in order to keep it together while being able to have other periods in your life that *aren’t* all about fitness. Everyone has a balance point and yours will be different from mine!

Now back to our regular programming…delicious sugary snacks (after one more comparison photo, that is!)

Pancakes & Syrup Peeps

Peeps are a weird candy. It’s not really the chicks themselves that fascinate me–though the colored sugar is mesmerizing–it’s the way people react to them.

I’m puzzled by the love-hate thing people have for America’s favorite baby marshmallow fowl. The majority that you ask will say they can’t stand them, so who the hell is buying them all? The amount of people who claim to despise the little mooshy sugar-sanded chickies seems disproportionate to how many are actually sold each year –approximately 700 Million according to Peeps Inc. So my question here is, who’s out there hiding in their closet having a guilty pleasure binge shoving Peeps into their mouth? I’m one of the people who likes them but in a “meh” sort of way. I’ll try the new flavors but two or three is enough for me. But I definitely feel like I’m in the minority as a middle-grounder; I neither love them nor feel the need to proclaim their disgustingness.

The other thing that’s crazy about them is how little interest there is in any alternative shape, color or design they’ve put out for any holiday. The colored ones might be aesthetically pleasing, but the yellow namesake chicks are the bestseller by an astounding margin. I merchandised seasonal holiday items for nine years, and there was always a case or two of Peeps for each major holiday…Snowmen and trees for Christmas, hearts for Valentine’s, Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween. 90% of the time they ended up in the clearance section. The flavored ones never sold well either, even at Easter. People have no sense of adventure.

Speaking of flavors, how about I stop pontificating about Peeps and get down to my review?

Most Peeps flavors I’ve tried so far tend to have an amazingly strong and accurate smell with a fairly subtle but still accurate taste. This variety was no different. The smell is actually fantastic, with an aroma reminiscent specifically of real maple syrup. The taste is downplayed but definitely recognizable as maple. I didn’t get any cakey flavor to represent the pancakes part, but I’ll give them a pass on that because it’s also not something I was expecting. Peeps are a simple recipe that probably makes it difficult to carry out that sort of complexity, and I learned from the Birthday Cake flavor that Peeps don’t really come with multilayered flavors.

If you’re a fan of both Peeps and maple candy this is actually a really on-point product. I found them very enjoyable and though I still could only stand my usual 2 to 3 at a time, I finished the whole package in a few days. Highly recommend as long as you dont hate Peeps.

Please Follow My Other Blog!

My second blog is having trouble getting off the ground. It’s a space for me to blog about other things that don’t involve food–most book-related but some just general life stuff. So if you enjoy my posts on this blog, please give The Extra Shelf a follow!

Yoplait Whips! DUNKIN French Vanilla Latte yogurt

I was not prepared for how amazing this yogurt is.

One of the things you sort of have to like about yogurt in order to enjoy yogurt at all is its tartness. Since the process of making the yogurt itself is what creates that tart flavor that makes you scrunch your lips together, it’s inescapable. This flavor also carries a strong but not overstated taste of coffee, and what I didn’t think to expect about it going in is that the tartness would go brilliantly with the natural bitterness of coffee (and the many grams of sugar.)

If you’re new to Yoplait’s Whips! line, it’s different but I find it to be an enjoyable light alternative to traditional yogurt (and the polar opposite of Greek yogurt which I can’t stand.) It’s more like a mousse in consistenty than anything else, but it has the unique tang that only comes with yogurt. It’s also kind of loud inside your mouth when you eat it; it’s not something others can really hear, but as you move it around in your mouth you can hear and feel the tiny air bubbles popping. This is definitely the best flavor I’ve tried so far; the French vanilla flavor is evident along with the coffee and it smells almost exactly like an actual coffee drink. You know it’s got a good aroma when one whiff makes your mouth water.

I really wasn’t expecting to like this yogurt that much. Now I’m planning to buy and hoard as many as I can reasonably (and maybe a little unreasonably) consume before the expiration date. With the usual outrageous amount of sugar you can expect from most flavored yogurts, this is something I have to be in the mood for because for how much sugar I’m consuming, I might as well be eating ice cream. But if I’m putting it on the same platform as my beloved ice cream, it’s safe to say, I recommend it.

Review: Girl Scout Yogurt, Caramel Coconut

Shame on me for not posting for so long, but I’m back to share a new treat with you today!

It’s Girl Scout cookie season and the Girl Scout logo is everywhere. Dunkin Donuts has taken up some of the more popular flavors to infuse into their beverages, and while perusing the yogurt selection at Market Basket the other day I spotted something intriguing:

Caramel coconut, or Samoas as they were previously called, have always been my hands-down favorite of the Girl Scout varieties. When I first saw this my reaction was that it would probably be mediocre at best. I’m always a little hesitant with yogurt; its inherent tartness makes it a difficult match for anything that isn’t fruit. Coffee, chocolate or caramel flavors have often disappointed me. But good old Yoplait has come out with a few flavors I enjoy (Whips chocolate is my favorite of all time) and I’ve learned that if you go in expecting that and understanding that the tartness is part of the deal, it’s possible to develop a taste for this strange combination.

When I tasted this yogurt my first reaction was that it’s just like any other caramel or chocolate yogurt I’ve tasted–tart and sweet. But I gave it a little time to settle in my mouth and was pleased with the strong and warm (albeit artificial) caramel flavor. There was no bitterness and surprisingly little to none of that nasty fake sugar taste you get with a lot of low-fat yogurts. The absence of that chemical mouthfeel is a huge asset to any low-fat product, but that wasn’t even the best part.

So what is the best part?

COCONUT FLECKS!!!!!

I absolutely love the consistency of coconut, and those tiny pieces of amazingness made this yogurt an official new favorite of mine.

If you’re looking for something that tastes exactly like a caramel Coconut Girl Scout cookie, you will not find it in this yogurt. It definitely doesn’t carry the flavor of the cookie. But to be fair, that’s pretty difficult to do in a yogurt when you’re talking about a shortbread cookie covered in candy. They are just two totally different worlds, and I think Yoplait did a commendable job combining the two into something people looking for a low-fat option to their long-time favorites can enjoy.

Lowfat yogurt is not something I eat all that often due to the sugar content. Since I’m not aiming to lose weight, if I’m going to consume that much sugar it might as well just be the actual cookie! But for those looking for tasty low-fat options, I give this yogurt 4 out of 5 stars.

If you’re craving a Girl Scout cookie really hard I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this will slay that craving. But if you’re just looking for a sweet treat, this yogurt is definitely worth a shot. It’s only available for a limited time, so if you find it grab a few and stock up– I know I will!

Confession: Balancing Fat and Fit

In my early twenties I was what you might call “skinny-fat.” Before I started seriously lifting weights around age 24, I thought I was fit. I wasn’t horribly out of shape, but until I walked into my brother’s Crossfit class for the first time I really didn’t know what it meant to be in great shape. That first workout and its aftermath (days of excruciating muscle pain that abated only while I was plastered at a wedding) opened my eyes to how much further my body could go if I took the time to teach it how. And in addition to changing the way I exercised, that day also marked the beginning of changing my relationship with food. Those of us in our twenties and thirties grew up watching our mothers experiment with fad diet plans such as the “grapefruit diet”, Atkins, SlimFast, the frozen preprepared foods diets like Jenny Craig, and other supposed quick fixes that offered people alternatives to a genuine healthy balanced diet and frequent, focused exercise. And let’s not forget the most damaging part of it all: the phrases low-fat, low-calorie and sugar-free. While the okayness of things like butter, eggs, red meat and saturated fats have gone back and forth, we were brought up hearing one consistent thing about healthy eating: eat less. I won’t get into the whole scientific explanation of weight gain and body function here; all I need you to know for the purposes of this entry is that since I’ve started both exercising more and eating way more, I’ve become leaner and functioned better than I ever did back when I thought I was fit. Since my teen years I’ve struggled to reign in my sweet tooth and keep from getting too heavy, but my weight has gone up and down. I was never fat but also never felt good about my body, and the point at which my body fat percentage was likely the highest was when I was barely exercising at all and was trying to simply eat less instead of eating better. As I got older I started eating better things but was still stuck in the old ways of thinking I’d gleaned growing up; I frequently told myself I was eating too much for someone unhappy with the way they looked. I didn’t know better. Then my brother Steve stepped in. When I complained of feeling faint during intense workouts, he started asking me about what I was eating and was horrified at how low my caloric intake was. I’d been skating by before because my workouts were only as intense as I could easily manage. If I was aiming to get stronger, faster and better- and to not feel like a tired pile of dog crap most of the time- I needed to do something very important, something I had never been told before: Eat more food! Slowly I started listening, but boy was it a hard change to make! And I still struggle each day to battle against that “eat less” mindset. Also crucial is having the discipline to make good choices, for with great amounts of eating comes great responsibility. Now that I eat more, there are even more oppurtunities to indulge in the wrong things. But to be able to burn fat, your body needs fuel. And as long as you’re not fueling it with fatty garbage, you’re probably doing it right! I have days where I overindulge and get way more calories than I should from donuts and ice cream, and that ends up reflecting in how I feel about myself. My energy level and motivation are dependent both on what I eat and hiw active I am; the two are intertwined. When I’m working out 4-5 days a week, I can pretty much eat anything I want and my body just burns right through it. And as the body understands its own needs pretty well, those are also the times I tend to crave more protein and less sugar. When I’m less active it’s more important- and also more difficult-to monitor what I eat. Usually an upturn or downswing in one influences the other, so I confess there are times when neither is on point. Balance is not an endgoal; it’s a journey. No one can remain in stasis for long, so in your quest for balance don’t expect to find one way that always works every time. Each day I employ a different combination of tools I’ve acquired along the way, and I’m always looking for new ones. 2011 vs. 2016