REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies

Life tip number one: Always write your name in big, bold letters on your cowboy hat.

Life tip number two: Never say no to cheesecake, especially when it involves pumpkin.

Ever since Hostess rose from the crumbling sponge cake edifice of its 2012 bankruptcy filing, the company has been churning out seasonal flavors with Pop-Tart like alacrity. You might just say that Twinkie the Kid (who’s actually a 55-year old man who apparently doesn’t believe in wearing shirts) is a Twinkie of many hats, except, well, Twinkie the Kid always wears a cowboy hat.

Well, Twinkie the Kid must be hiding a chef’s hat under his Stetson, because his new Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies might just be the pinnacle of artificial pumpkin spice cheesecake flavor.

I wrote this in an endearing manner; one only expects so much authenticity in a cheesecake-flavored product that contains hydrogenated beef tallow, yet for what the Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies lack in their simplicity of ingredients, they more than make up for in surprisingly unexpected guilty pleasure appeal.

The key to enjoying the flavor of the Twinkies, like the key to enjoying so many mass-produced bakery snacks, is to judge the flavor as a sum of the cake’s part. I won’t sugarcoat this, because the 18 grams of sugar in each Twinkie already do, but the white fudge coating is waxy and saccharine on its own. The Twinkie cake, is, well, a slightly dry sponge cake that could just last into eternity. And the cream? A cinnamon and nutmeg explosion spilled into equal parts sour cream and marshmallow fluff.

When I first ate the Twinkie in three distinct parts, I thought it was mediocre. But then, since I’m a complete glutton who absolutely loves pumpkin spice cheesecake, I stuffed a whole Twinkie in my mouth.

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The flavor was unexpectedly if not unequivocally pumpkin spice, with a sweet, slightly tangy filling providing notes of cheesecake. The white fudge coating, commingling with the cakey and cream filled elements, suddenly provided both a textural contrast that mimicked a cheesecake crust, while also serving as a rich and sweet topping. I’m not saying it was a Cheesecake Factory experience par excellence, but as each Twinkie wrapper fell to the floor and crumbs of white fudge coating smeared onto my shirt, both the cheesecake and pumpkin spice flavor became more pronounced.

Which brings me to my major problem with Twinkie the Kid’s latest concoction: It’s hard to say no. Actually, it’s downright impossible, even though the cloying nature of the white fudge and the cinnamon heavy flavored cream tell your brain that this is not exactly the most authentic representation of pumpkin spice cheesecake you could buy.

But that’s the thing about both cheesecake and pumpkin spice: there’s a margin for error that doesn’t demand Philadelphia cream cheese, toasted nutmeg, or Saigon cinnamon. The flavor can be artificial; it can be overly sweet. Yet as long as it works within the constraints of the ingredients to conjure up the flavor of pumpkin spice cheesecake, it’s not something you’re going to say no to.

And judging by the how quickly I plowed through the nine snack cakes in my box of Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Twinkies, I won’t be saying no to buying these again.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Cake – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 6.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 9 cakes
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Admirably complexity in the pumpkin spice flavored cream. Cream has a cheesecake tang and thicker viscosity than normal Twinkie cream. White Fudge coating binds the whole cake together with rich and sweet flavor. Doesn’t screw up one of the best flavors of fall.
Cons: The white fudge coating is almost uneatable when sampled alone. Exceptionally sweet. Made with the same great stuff that McDonald’s used to fry their fries in. Eating 720 calories in Twinkies and still feeling famished.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal

Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal

Pumpkin spice presents an existential crisis for the creative writer.

There is only so much that can said about it. What there is to say has been said before, said again, and then said in a different way. Chances are the same trite expression about pushing autumn in August, or the long litany of pumpkin spice products now available to us, is currently being wrestled onto the page of another food blog. We, the pumpkin spice addicts of America, have long since typed our love affair with the orange gourd and its seminal flavors into a monotony of clichés.

This is a damn shame, because when done right, pumpkin spice should not be reduced to a cliché.

Take the new Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

This is limited edition cereal to end all limited edition cereals; the kind of product that’s worth stocking up on from the beginning of August and then rationing out through the polar onslaught of December and humid days of July.

To be fair, we should have expected this much. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios were announced back in the spring when Strawberry Cheerios came out, and given the success of the spring flavor, Cheerios let us know they’re not doing this LTO thing half-ass.

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Case in point, Pumpkin Spice Cheerios don’t taste like cinnamon. The flavor isn’t the cheap heavy note of cassia, nor is it the honey or brown sugar sweetness that often comes along for the pumpkin spice ride. Likewise, this is not the repackaged taste of Honey Nut Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios are pumpkin spice Cheerios. There’s the sweet fragrant note of nutmeg, the aromatic warmth of clove, and, yes, the flavors of cinnamon and ginger.

Lest you think this is just a pumpkin spice flavor, there is some serious sweet pumpkin flavor going on in each of those oat rings. The addition of real pumpkin in the ingredients makes a world of difference when eating the cereal in milk, where the sublime essence of pumpkin desserts comes to life.

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Yes, sublime essence. Think of it as that moment when crust component, pumpkin component, and dairy meet. Here the warming and exotic notes of spices co-mingle with the sweetened taste of pumpkin and the richness of milk. A hearty crunch filled with sweetened dairy and a bit of milkfat greets eats spoonful, and in that moment the eater relives everything that is right about the cool breeze of October and the multicolored leaves that drift to the ground.

I may have chomped down on my first bite on a 95-degree day in west Texas, but if I would have closed my eyes and blasted a fan in my face then I’m pretty sure I could have fooled myself into believing it was autumn. It sure tasted that way.

Based on the rapidly growing list of pumpkin spice cereals entering the market, we’ll soon have the proverbial cornucopia to choose from. I don’t doubt many of these cereals will be good, but few, I’m willing to bet, will be able to match the appeal of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 120 mg of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.98
Size: 21 oz box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Outstanding representation of the complexity of pumpkin spices that exceeds the dull and heavy cinnamon flavor sometimes assigned to pumpkin spice. Sweet, hearty taste of oat base. Wonderful rich flavor in milk that tastes like the edge of a pumpkin pie or bar.
Cons: Could be a tad sweeter and have a “glaze” like Honey Nut Cheerios. The creative struggle to explain the appeal of pumpkin spice.

REVIEW: Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream

Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream

Move your cursor away from the search box on Amazon.com. Stop trying to scroll through the listings of international breakfast foods. Do yourself a favor and cancel your vacation plans to South Korea.

Oreo O’s are dead.

The cereal does not exist anymore. Not here in the States, not in Seoul, not even in freaking Pyongyang. Why else do you think Kim Jong-un is shooting missiles into the ocean?

The magical elixir of milk that blends the sweet chocolaty taste of cookies and the crunchy wholesomeness of breakfast cereal is but a distant memory. In its place we have a few attempts at compromise, but who are we kidding? The stale abomination known as Cookie Crisp will never suffice, nor will a new limited edition Oreo creme which tastes like sixteen bowls of Fruity Pebbles.

But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places. Instead of trying to find the soul of Oreo O’s in cereal or even cookies, perhaps the flavor explosion of sweet milk, chocolate, and corn cereal can be resurrected in ice cream form?

As our 1990s selves would have said: Well, DUH!

I have eaten a lot of off-the-wall Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors in my day, but the new Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal flavor is my favorite, mostly because it captures the Oreo and cereal vibe that only my beloved Oreo O’s had been able to do. But if I thought the combination of Oreo chocolate wafers embedded into a crunchy corn cereal base was good, then Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal ice cream borrows a line from Tony the Tiger and is Gr-r-reat!

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The cereal milk flavored ice cream basically tastes like a sweeter, richer, and thicker version of a really good cookies and cream ice cream; one studded with so many crunchy Oreo pieces you’d have thought an entire package of Oreos went into a single scoop. This isn’t some store-brand cookies and cream. Big chunks of rounded, ridged edged Oreo wafers are packed with a bittersweet chocolate flavor that contrasts the sweet ice cream base and the slightly salty, chewy frosted flakes ribbon.

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What’s this, you say? The description reads frosted corn flake cereal pieces and a crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon. Well that it does, but the description is as big a fib as telling you that you can still buy a box of Oreo O’s on Amazon.

Truth be told, I licked every nook and cranny of this cone, and the corn flake ribbon and frosted flake pieces are one and the same. The pieces have an odd texture that’s somewhere between the discontinued Frosted Flakes Gold, a northern style corn bread, and, I swear I’m not making this up, Corn Nuts. If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s also notes of waffle cone and Cap’n Crunch, although I suspect the latter is due to toasting the clustered ribbon in coconut oil.

Long list of ingredients aside, It’s like having a corn cakes breakfast-flavored cereal, and it’s beyond delicious (note to Kellogg’s: Get on that).

I was actually a little skeptical that Oreo cookies and corn/frosted flakes would work together, but the result is a surprisingly harmonious ménage à trois, hearkening back to Oreo O’s while introducing another layer of crunchy corn sweetness and sweet creamy flavor. So do yourself a favor and wipe those tears from your keyboard, because you’ll soon be dripping melting ice cream (and tears of joy) all over the space bar.

(Nutrition Facts – 2.5 ounce scoop (small) – 200 calories, 180 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 110 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 16 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: Small Scoop
Purchased at: Baskin-Robbins
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a combination of Oreo O’s, Frosted Flakes, pancakes, and Cap’n Crunch all in one lick. Sweet and rich cookies and cream vibe from the cereal milk base. Excellent contrast of crunchy and creamy.
Cons: Cereal element isn’t exactly as advertised and isn’t crispy in the way cereal is. Crying over spilled (cereal) milk.

REVIEW: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed with Reese’s Pieces

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed with Reese's Pieces

In a perfect world food would be an easy linear math problem.

Most the time this concept stands to reason. Just as we recite 2 + 2 = 4 ad nauseam during our earliest days of grade school, our first adventures in the world of taste confirm basic premises upon which all further knowledge of sweet and salty is built upon. Bacon + Burger = Excellent, Fish + Cheese = Why?, and, my personal favorite, Peanut Butter + Chocolate = All You Need In Life.

Yes, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is all you need in life.

This is not subject to relativism. Name for me one person who does not like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. What’s that, you can’t? I’m telling you such people do not exist. You don’t become the highest selling candy in the country because you have haters. Okay then, try one person who does not like a handful of Reese’s Pieces? Speak up! Are those crickets chirping in the background? Thought so.

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So if we’re talking math and we’re talking candy, it should follow that Awesome Chocolate and Peanut Butter Candy + Another Awesome Chocolate and Peanut Butter Candy = Exponentially Awesome Chocolate and Peanut Butter Candy. Unfortunately, the new Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups stuffed with Reece’s Pieces taste remarkably like…Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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I am not trying to say this is a bad thing (I did call them “awesome”). Far be it from me to audit the millions of dollars we fork over annually for that creamy peanut butter center and smooth milk chocolate shell. But when one expects the crunchy, intense burst of even more peanut butter and chocolate to give the cups the all-important textural variation that makes a simple candy like Crunch so popular, one only returns with slightly grainy shards of chocolate shell sticking from the peanut butter. The two peanut butter elements even meld into each other, creating a completely indistinguishable flavor that tastes both unequivocally yummy and devastatingly disappointing.

2 + 2 = 4? Psh. Now I get what Orwell meant when he wrote that 2 + 2 = 5. Except 5 is not any better than 4.

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I’m sure there are a fair number of people saying, “Well, what did you expect?” Fair question, but excuse me for holding the Reese’s R&D people to a high standard. The brand has only given us, what, about as many variations of peanut butter and chocolate as there are Duggar children? Yet where every Reese’s product seems to offer a bit of something extra when it comes to taste and texture, the new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Reese’s Pieces provide just an additional military-sized acronym to memorize in all your favorite candy forums (RMCPBCswRP in the unabridged form).

And, for the record, a bolder choice would have been to wrap an entire dark chocolate Reese’s cup in a Reese’s Pieces milk chocolate shell, thus encasing the smooth and creamy peanut butter to two levels of chocolate and increasing the crunch a gazillion times. And while we’re at it, can we add a white chocolate drizzle?

But then again, what do I know. I’m just a guy who has only been eating Reese’s PB Cups and Reese’s Pieces since I learned that 2 + 2 = 4.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 package or 2 cups – 220 calories, 100 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 5.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of dietary fiber, 23 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: 1.5 oz
Purchased at: Shoppers Food
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Of course you love that smooth and slightly salty peanut butter and sweet milk chocolate! The simple life of linear first grade math equations. Military-grade acronyms for candy.
Cons: Tastes exactly like a regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Pieces provide a barely distinguishable textural contrast. A whimper in a banging tradition of product innovation. Rereading 1984

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich

Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich

Quite a bit has happened in the world since Chick-fil-A last released a new breakfast sandwich.

The Star Wars franchise has been revived, Nabisco stuck Fruity Pebbles in an Oreo, and Blake Shelton married Miranda Lambert, got divorced from Miranda Lambert, and is now shacking up with the lead singer of my favorite 1990s pop-ska-rock band.

Also, I got sort of chubby. A bit rotund. Somewhat more heavyset.

Frankly, I blame the fast food breakfast sandwiches, in particular Chick-fil-A’s ethereal chicken biscuit. I know I’m supposed to be getting down with this whole moderation thing, but that’s easier said than done. Where other chains at least offer somewhat healthy breakfast sandwiches on their menus, Chick-fil-A offers oatmeal. Oatmeal? Really? Like oatmeal stands a chance against a juicy fried chicken breast nestled between a fresh-baked biscuit slathered with butter.

The new Egg White Grill sandwich changes that, and might just slow the growth of my increasing flabby diameter. And while I’m not normally one to pass on a molten egg yolk, I’m less wedded to the superiority of cooked fast food eggs over egg whites; that is, provided the texture doesn’t remind me of that time I accidentally ate a deflated water balloon (don’t ask).

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Fortunately, that’s not the case with Chick-fil-A’s egg whites. They’re really not at all chewy, and even have a bit of sweetness and a hint of buttery flavor from the grill. I thought they tasted about the same as the whites that McDonald’s uses, but had a better texture.

The grilled chicken is excellent (no surprise) and much better than the overly salty Canadian bacon you’d get on McDonald’s Egg White Delight. The chicken has a bold chargrill flavor and zesty citrusy aftertaste that’s really flavorful without being heavy, while the size is a perfect fit on the toasted English muffin.

The muffin and single slice of cheese, which was melted nicely toward the center of the sandwich, added quite a bit of flavor. If I have one complaint, it’s that there wasn’t a slice of a juicy tomato to add a little sweetness and relieve the gooey saltiness of the cheese. Also: Bacon. But this would probably detract a bit from the healthy angle.

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Along with the new sandwich, Chick-fil-A has revamped some of its sauces and also added a new Sweet and Spicy Sriracha sauce. I tried it on the new sandwich, and while it has an enjoyable kick and sweetness that plays well with the naturally bland egg whites, it leans closer to a conventional sweet chili garlic sauce than a Sriracha sauce. It actually detracted from the savory and salty cheese on the sandwich, and covered up some of the buttery and toasted flavor, but I’ll definitely be grabbing a couple of packets the next time I order nuggets.

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I’m not ready to give up chicken biscuits completely, but the Egg White Grill provides a nice transition for trying to live out this whole moderation thing. Of course, that moderation thing could completely go out the window should Chick-fil-A decide to introduce chicken and waffles, but at this rate, I probably have a six-year cushion before that happens.

(Nutrition Facts – 300 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 3.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 970 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 grams of sugar, and 25 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.35
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Chick-fil-A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: A healthy breakfast sandwich that actually tastes desirable. Juicy grilled chicken breast and buttery egg whites provide plenty of protein. Melty cheese and perfectly toasted English muffin.
Cons: Not quite the life-changing experience of a chicken biscuit. Lacks a crunchy element like bacon or breaded chicken. Could use some more sweetness. Decreasing metabolism.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Choco Chip Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition Choco Chip Oreo Cookies

Sometime during the 1920s, amidst the green oak pines of St. Lambert Country Club in Quebec, a wealthy hotel mogul by the name of David Mulligan tightened his knickers, squared up to the tee, drew his driver back, and proceeded to hit a golf ball directly into a sand trap—on an adjacent hole.

“Shiitake mushroom!” he exclaimed, realizing there were ladies nearby and wishing to abstain from obscenities. “I do believe I shall need a correction shot for that one!”

“Another one!?!” his friend, Rupert T. Bosworth Esquire III bellowed. “My, you take so many correction shots they ought to just call them mulligans!”

And so the common term for a do-over was born.

Food companies don’t often get mulligans —- at least not as many as the U.S. golfers admit to taking. But then again, companies don’t really deserve second chances, if you ask me. If you’re paying people to engineer delicious, they damn well better engineer delicious the first time around. That or they need a really good reason to try a flavor again.

In the case of Cookie Dough Oreo Cookies, I’m glad Oreo took a mulligan. It’s not that the 2014 limited edition cookie was bad, but rather that it should have been called “Caramel Latte” Oreos. Such was the intensity of the coffee flavor. But when it came to pure, unadulterated, E. coli-be-damned cookie dough madness, well, Cookie Dough Oreo left a lot to be desired.

The new Limited Edition Choco Chip Oreo leave far less to be desired. This is a cookie that blurs the line between sandwich cookie and chocolate chip cookie like no other, capturing the very best of packaged chocolate chip cookie flavor without forcing you to stop in front of the Chips Ahoy! display and ponder the question chewy or original?

Limited Edition Choco Chip Oreo Cookies 3

The “choco chip” cookie base, an entirely new conception for Oreo, is crunchy and balanced, with notes of brown sugar and tiny bursts of chocolate. It’s not the greatest representation of a chocolate chip cookie we’ve ever seen in packaged form, but it has a sort of dippable appeal that I’d compare to a chocolate chip Teddy Graham or those old Nabisco Chips Ahoy! 100-calorie pack cookie thins.

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Speaking of dippable –- yeah, that’s where the creme center comes in. Where traditional Oreo creme is a bit stiff and grainy, the choco chip cookie creme has a frosting-like smoothness and viscosity to go along with a strong burst of sweetness and an aftertaste of molasses and brown sugar. On its own it’s a bit too sweet, but taken in a complete bite with the crunchy wafer, it’s like chomping down on a cookie dough stuffed cookie.

There’s no coffee flavors, and unlike the sometimes disjointed bite of the Cookie Dough Oreo, where the chocolate wafer and coffee creme competed, the flavor of the Choco Chip Oreo is pure chocolate chip cookie. The only downside is predictable: there’s only so much buttery and eggy richness that can be stuffed inside a shelf-stable 14-ounce cookie.

Choco Chip Oreo Cookies aren’t a hole in one, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes you just gotta admire a straight drive down the fairway, and be content with very good. I mean, it could be worse. You could be eating coffee-flavored cookies out of a sand trap or something. So thank you, Mr. Mulligan, for sucking at golf. This Oreo redo is for you.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 15 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 10.7 oz package
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Chocolate chip cookie dough meets Duncan Hines frosting. Much more authentic chocolate chip cookie flavor than Cookie Dough Oreo. Second chances in the cookie aisle.
Cons: A bit too sweet. Both the wafer and filling lack eggy and buttery richness. What the fudge is “choco” anyway?