REVIEW: Kellogg’s Jif PB&J Strawberry Cereal

Kellogg's Jif PB&J Strawberry Cereal

Frankly, I blame adults.

They are, after all, the ones leading cereal companies. They’re the ones trying to come up with ways to stop sliding cereal sales, but when they’re not too busy putting quinoa and Sprouted Grains into my breakfast bowl, they’re forgetting what it’s like to be a kid.

How else can we explain the fact that no one has made peanut butter and jelly cereal before? If they would have only asked us kids (ok, slightly balding upper twenty-somethings, too) then we could have told them the next great cereal flavor was right under their noses the whole time.

Any kid with a crowded cereal pantry, taste buds, and a bit of imagination probably already knew it was a good combination. I’m probably not the only person to combine Cap’n Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch and Whoops All Berries in the same bowl, so I’m guessing many of you expected as much. But in case any anxious food company executives still needed convincing, Jif’s PB&J Strawberry Cereal should put fears to rest.

I was a bit skeptical, too. A year and a half ago I wrote that Jif’s cereal was good, but it wasn’t as peanut buttery as other peanut butter cereals. To a certain extent this is still true; the brown sugar and molasses flavor gives each square an almost kettle corn quality, while the squares aren’t quite as roasted or developed in flavor as Peanut Butter Crunch. But the peanut butter flavor is better than it used to be, and works especially well when mixed with the small spheres of strawberry cereal.

Kellogg's Jif PB&J Strawberry Cereal 2

I’m glad Jif lived up to its slogan and was choosy with their choice of jelly for the cereal: whether you like strawberry or grape jelly doesn’t matter so much, because you’re going to like the fact that the red corn spheres taste more than just vaguely fruity. They’re much better than Crunch Berries in that they have a distinct strawberry flavor that is both ultra-sweet but also slightly tart; in other words, the perfect foil to the salty, molasses and brown sugar flavor of the peanut butter squares.

It’s when these two flavors come together that the unmistakable synergy that is PB&J takes over. As you crunch down on a spoonful (or, as I prefer, a dry handful) the two flavors mix and mingle with the utmost of equality. Just like in a real PB&J sandwich, the jelly flavor takes center stage first, but it quickly gives way to a salty peanut flavor.

Kellogg's Jif PB&J Strawberry Cereal 3

There’s a kettle corn type aftertaste in milk that’s a bit unconventional, and the tartness of the strawberry pieces takes a little getting used to, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the cereal just works. It is, in so many ways, absolutely everything you’ve ever wanted from a PB&J sandwich, right on down to the sticky mush that sticks to the room of your mouth and the absence of those stupid bitter crusts that always end up getting thrown away.

When you think about it, a PB&J cereal sounds weird. I mean, you probably wouldn’t stick a PB&J sandwich in milk, unless, of course, you are weird. What I’m trying to say is I forgive all those adults out there for not wanting us to eat weird things. But in the case of Jif PB&J Strawberry cereal, it works, and is something both kids and big kids are sure to enjoy.

(Nutrition Facts – 26 grams – 100 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 150 mg of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugars, and 1 grams of protein.)

Item: Kellogg’s Jif PB&J Strawberry Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 10 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Great sweet and salty balance captures the taste of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Strawberry pieces actually have a distinct sweet-tart strawberry flavor. Sticks to the roof of your mouth in milk. No crusts. Just straight up works.
Cons: A slightly distracting corn aftertaste. No unctuous and fatty peanut butter depth. The unfortunate state of the cereal industry.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Fudge Croissant Donut

Dunkin' Donuts Fudge Croissant Donut

I sometimes allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe, some research and development person in the fast casual industry will hear my ideas and implement them. Usually this isn’t the case, but my 2014 review of Dunkin’ Donuts’ Croissant Donut might’ve been the catalyst for Dunkin’s new Fudge Croissant Donut.

…the single-flavor fails to capitalize on a host of sweet croissant fillings, while coming across as overpriced and, yes, mass-produced. There was a part of me which wanted more distinctiveness in the interior layers, wishing for a truly pick-apart dough which was layered with chocolate or marzipan or any number of fillings.

Ok, so maybe attributing Dunkin’s latest donut to me and me alone is arrogant and presumptuous. But I know I wasn’t the only one who liked the original “Cronut” imitator but also thought it could be better. And since chocolate croissants are the logical first step from plain croissants, it only made sense that if Dunkin just added a chocolate filling to their Croissant Donut, it would be a game-changer.

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Unfortunately, what Dunkin Donuts is piping into the many laminated layers of flaky croissant-donut dough is not fudge. There is definitely a strong, almost-dark cocoa flavor on the back-end, but the mixture itself is far from the buttery, milky, and intensely chocolaty experience you should get from fudge. It’s also not the hardened and concentrated pain au chocolat filling you might see in a real pastry. Instead, it’s somewhat viscous and tastes like artificially-thickened chocolate syrup. But most of all, it immediately comes across as far too sweet.

Also too sweet are the chocolate and white icings, which lack richness and taste mostly of hardened sugar. Granted, each drizzle is applied with impeccable craftsmanship, but for $2.49, I would hope the Croissant Donut’s value exceeds the aesthetic.

The cloying taste of the icing and the faux fudge might offset a genuine croissant, but because the Croissant Donut is already glazed with a thick and hardened coating of donut glaze, each bite is just sugar on top of sugar. Where the original version of Dunkin’s mashup had some of the savory, buttery aftertaste of croissant dough, this version betrayed too much of its mass-produced donut origins.

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Speaking of donut origins, the texture definitely takes a step back from the original croissant donut; the layers are there, but they’re more fluffy than crispy, giving way with even the slightest pressure.

If Dunkin Donuts’s Fudge Croissant Donut was a hit, I’d for sure take credit for its existence and possibly even sue the company for copyright infringement. As it stands, I’ll save myself the legal hassle and just call it like I taste it: the Fudge Croissant Donut is an overpriced sugar bomb, and does neither a chocolate croissant nor a chocolate-iced donut justice.

(Nutritional Facts – 400 calories, 20 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 300 milligrams of sodium, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 25 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Fudge Croissant Donut
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Addition of chocolate filling into Croissant Donut. Indulgent dark cocoa flavored filling gets good coverage throughout the interior layers. Possible hope that fast casual research and development people read my reviews. Saving money on legal fees.
Cons: Chocolate filling doesn’t taste buttery or milky like “fudge”. Novelty of the croissant layers gets lost in the overly cloying icing and donut glaze. Too much donut taste and not enough buttery balance. More than half a day’s saturated fat.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries

Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries

“You know, you’re the first guy I’ve seen eat cheese fries in a suit. And with a knife and fork to boot. I told you not to order just cheese fries”

Taking a break from chewing, I realized my friend Seth had a point. For a second I even considered that I might look ridiculous. Then I remembered he was the one saying “to boot,” and I was the one savoring one of the finest cheeses of Europe or something.

“Dude, these aren’t cheese fries. It’s fondue. If you knew anything about anything you’d know it’s all the rage in Europe and only the next big food trend here.”

“You sure there, Marty McFly? I coulda sworn my grandparents saw that stuff go out of style.”

I looked down at the natural cut, skin-on fries; their still-crispy skins peeking out from the thick white goo of the Swiss Gruyere cheese like rocky outcroppings dotting the Alps. Ok, I told myself, he has a point. But so what if fondue is a bit retro. Besides, I don’t remember bacon in any of those corny old photo albums. And these fries weren’t just covered in bacon, they were covered in practically a whole hog’s belly.

“Cheesy goodness never goes out of style, Seth. Especially not when bacon is introduced.”

“Yeah, but on fries? I like cheese and bacon as much as the next guy, but I’d prefer to eat this bacon cheeseburger. I like my fries crispy, not soggy and covered in even more fat.”

Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries 2

A fair point, to be sure, and one I had originally had reservations about. But the fries remained remarkably crisp despite the fresh covering of Gruyere cheese lava. They even managed to retain that hearty and earthy potato flavor with the addition of the assertive but nutty richness of fast food’s take on the classic Swiss cheese.

“It’s all strategic positioning,” I explained. “The cheese covers most of the fries without saturating each fry completely. Yeah, parts of the fries are a bit soggy, but more often than not you’re still getting bites of untouched potato skin. It’s really the best of both worlds.”

Now he was the one doing a double take at his meal, his Junior Bacon Cheeseburger appearing increasingly dull.

“But the bacon…no way it’s actually good.”

I could tell he was scrambling. And still wrong.

“Why wouldn’t it be? It’s the same bacon the burgers use. Crispy, meaty, and with enough chewy and smoky fat to keep things interesting. I did get one burnt tasting piece, but overall it’s damn good.

“But man, let me tell you, this cheese sauce is where it’s at.” I was getting close to rubbing it in now, but Seth had been the one mocking me for “just” getting cheese fries. The way I saw it, he had earned it. “It’s rich like butter, smoky like meat, and as gooey as the gooiest grilled cheese sandwich your mom ever made for you. And since you can eat it with a fork and knife, you actually savor it all.

Now that was a bit excessive. I looked down in partial shame (but really mostly just to get another bite) and then looked up again to apologize to Seth. He had left, but returning a moment later with an order of Bacon Fondue Fries in one hand, and a knife and fork in the other.

“Yeah,” he said. “Turns out you were right.”

(Nutrition Facts – 460 calories, 230 calories from fat, 25 grams of fat, 8 grams of sat fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 590 milligrams of sodium, 1050 milligrams of potassium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of protein, 10% DV calcium..)

Item: Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Excellent contrast of crispy fries and warm, gooey cheese sauce. Bacon is plentiful and meaty with excellent smoke flavor. Complex Gruyere cheese sauce is like Queso with a Ph.D. in International banking (or something). Two and a half bananas worth of potassium. Being right.
Cons: Bordering on heavy. Pricey for a side item. Eating French Fries like an aristocrat.

REVIEW: Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn

Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn

The Christmas and holiday food season is filled with minefields of discontent. Like the hand-knit Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sweater your grandma has given you every year since you were seven, it means well with its eggnog this and candy cane that, but for some of us, it’s all just too much of the same old same old.

A man’s pants can only expand so much between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day; and really, do you want another slice of pumpkin pie since you’ve been eating pumpkin spice everything since September?

There’s one exception: sugar cookies. I’ve never met someone who has grown tired of sugar cookies. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking crisp snowman-shaped cutouts with royal icing or chewy circles sprinkled with demerara sugar, the fact is that sugar cookies are nearly impossible to resist.

Just think about it; if Santa can eat millions of them in a single night year after year, you know there has gotta be something ineffably transcendent about the combination of sugar, butter, and flour. Or, Cracker Jack might say, sugar, sprinkles, and popcorn.

What is this, you say. An early present in my stocking, or a lump of coal to fan the flame on the pyre of holiday themed food trends past? In the case of Cracker Jack’s Holiday Sugar Cookie popcorn, it’s not just a present, it’s a present with a prize.

Now that’s a win-win.

Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn 2

The line between sugar cookie and birthday cake flavoring seems to be getting blurrier each year, and this faux-frosting coated Cracker Jack doesn’t help separate the two. Not that frosting is bad, because the one on this popcorn is excellent. It’s sweet, crunchy, and it has everything the glaze of normal Cracker Jack’s have, including those trademarked hints of molasses and caramel flavor.

While molasses might not be the first pairing that comes to mind with sugar cookie, in this case it works, It’s made even better by a pleasant artificiality of sprinkles and those cute little nonpareils the Pillsbury Dough Boy manages to bake into every Funfetti product this side of Fourth of July.

Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn 3

Sweeter than an actual sugar cookie, each crunchy, perfectly popped kernel may lack the grainy chew of flour and butter, but it’s still highly enjoyable to munch on. There’s still that lingering taste of salty popcorn on the backend, which, although far from the traditional sugar cookie experience, makes the popcorn all the better. It’s as if sugar cookie has finally picked up some of the synergy created by the sea salt chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie fads, and even though the popcorn isn’t as rich, it works.

There’s only one downside, as far as I’m concerned: the glorious prize, so beautifully advertised on the bag to suggest images of unwrapping gifts around the tree, is nothing more than a sticker. But I won’t complain too much. After all, it could have been a Rudolph sweater, which now that I think about it may have been worse than coal.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 15 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn
Purchased Price: $1.28
Size: 4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Like having frosting coated popcorn. Crunchy popcorn mimics light give of sugar cookie. Salty-sweet combination with back notes of molasses and caramel. SPRINKLES.
Cons: Typically weak Cracker Jack prize. Doesn’t come in cute holiday cut-out shapes like snowmen or Santa Clauses stuck in chimneys. No peanuts.

REVIEW: Blue Bunny Seasonal Selections Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Blue Bunny Seasonal Selections Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Pumpkin pie – homemade, if you please, in a graham cracker crust, if you prefer, and hopefully served following a 3,500 calorie expedition through turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes – has long ago reached that point of singular dessert transcendence in which the evolutionary process takes over, undergoing a transformation into all manner of other delicious items. Case in point? Ice cream, including Blue Bunny’s new Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream.

Pumpkin-flavored ice cream is unapologetically delicious, although hardly earth-shattering. Virtually every major ice cream player has capitalized on mixing pumpkin puree and the usual suspects of spices within the magical confines of frozen cream and sugar, and none have been downright bad. That said, Blue Bunny has got some stiff competition, especially when they’ve forgone the standard whipped cream topping for, ahem, “marshmallow swirl.”

They certainly nailed the spice aspect if nothing else. It’s floral and powerful. It’s multifaceted and gives each lick a sophisticated ethos of falling leaves and cool temperatures. Frankly, when middle schoolers learn about the spice trade in their history classes and ask the proverbial “so what?” teachers should shove an ice cream cone of this in their faces and make them say thank you to the Portuguese.

Blue Bunny Seasonal Selections Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream 2

The taste of pumpkin is solid, but by no means exceptional. You know that flavor pumpkin pie takes on in the oven? That deep, brown sugar and caramelized natural sugar flavor? Yeah, it’s not there. If you’re like me and looking for an exceptionally deep pumpkin flavor, Blue Bunny’s rendition just doesn’t compete with the pumpkin bases of Edy’s and Hershey’s.

What does compete is the graham cracker ribbon. Some graham crackers suffer from staleness or overly fake flavors when put into ice cream. Not this one. The flavor is classic and mellow with the right mixture of crunch and whole wheat flavor to remind you of Nabisco’s Honey Maid Graham Crackers. It’s a nice counter to the assertive pumpkin spice, and needed textural contrast to the smooth base.

Blue Bunny Seasonal Selections Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream 3

While the pie crust pieces in the ribbon are exceptional, the ice cream base begs for more of them. Those of you familiar with Turkey Hill’s Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream will notice how little graham pieces there are and how they aren’t as crunchy in Blue Bunny’s version. Likewise, the ice cream base feels like it should be richer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s smooth and creamy, but the taste of cream just seems overshadowed by the floral notes of the spice. As far as the marshmallow swirl? Eh, can we just leave that on the sweet potato casserole? The only white swirly stuff I want on my pumpkin pie is whipped cream.

It’s a scientific fact that you can’t screw up pumpkin pie and Blue Bunny’s Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream is no exception. Yet like Red Velvet and other desserts turned into ice cream, it could do better, especially in an ice cream aisle filled with so many competitors.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 4 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.)

Item: Blue Bunny Seasonal Selections Spiced Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 1.75 quarts
Purchased at: United Supermarkets
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Exceptional pumpkin spice flavor. Smooth texture and mouthfeel. Graham cracker swirl tastes like Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers. Educational resource for apathetic middle schoolers.
Cons: Pumpkin flavor lacks baked depth and richness. Too sweet. Needs more graham cracker ribbons. Marshmallow fluff instead of whipped cream.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

“I just don’t know what’s wrong with me, Doc.”

She stared at me through horn-rimmed glasses. I’d seen the look before on psychologists, and knew I’d better continue.

“I just have no enthusiasm anymore. Worse yet, I’m completely ravenous. Nothing seems to satiate me.”

“Interesting. What have you been eating?”

“Eh, I guess the question is what haven’t I been eating. It’s fall, you know, and pumpkin spice is my jam. Actually it’s more like by butter, because I’ve never heard of pumpkin jam. But anyways…just this morning I stopped and picked up a bag on Hostess Donettes Pumpkin Spice Donuts.”

She blinked rapidly. “And tell me, how did those make you feel?”

I thought about it for a moment. I’d been anxious to pick them up; each glazed orange cake donut calling my name. I’d loved Donettes as a kid, and now that Hostess had built a pumpkin spice version, life seemed complete. Yet here I was, mere hours after mindlessly eating the entire bag, feeling so…incomplete.

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 2

“Horrible,” I blurted out, the memories suddenly coming to the forefront of my mind. Then every lackluster pumpkin spice product I’d ever eaten entered my stream of conscious, overflowing in a river of confectioner’s sugar glaze and a mere trace (trace, mind you) of cinnamon. I’d been holding the memories back, repressing the thoughts of pumpkin spice rolls that tasted instead of Twinkies and pumpkin spice M&M’s that tasted of, well, M&M’s.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “I’ve seen the case many times, with increasing frequency. What you seem to have is MPSFS”

“Misspsfs? Say what?”

“MPSFS. Mediocre Pumpkin Spice Fatigue Syndrome. Tell me, were cinnamon, ginger, and allspice listed in the ingredients of these donuts? How about pumpkin puree?”

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 4

I thought back to the ingredient list, remembering I had seen cinnamon and pumpkin. But then I remembered where they were listed. The dreaded “less than 2%” section, with pumpkin puree coming in dead last, even behind “Blue 2 Lake.” I kid you not, you can’t make this stuff up.

I hung my head in disappointment, more memories materializing. Each donut had the presence of cinnamon, but nothing more. Something between just the aroma and a slight taste of something slightly spicy, the cinnamon flavor had been fake and one-note, like a Red Hot candy without the heat. No other spices rounded it out, and despite the orange hue, pumpkin had never registered on my taste buds. (Thankfully, neither had Blue Lake 2.) A decent packaged donut, cloying glaze and all, but nothing more.

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I looked back up at the doc, my eyes beginning to water up in shame. How could I have been so duped? And by Hostess, no less!

She must have noticed my shame, saying, “There’s a cure, you know. But you’ll have to give up cheap imitations of pumpkin spice—including the Donettes.”

That was fine by me. After the Donettes, I was ready to leave anything pumpkin spice behind, even the memories of great pumpkin spice products. I got up to leave, ready to embrace whatever it is people embrace when they decide to forsake an entire season’s worth of flavors. That’s when she stopped me.

“You’ll find something someday that will remind you of why you love pumpkin spice. Don’t let a few bad apples, um, pumpkins, ruin what pumpkin spice should be.”

With that I smiled, knowing lackluster Donettes couldn’t be the last word on pumpkin spice.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 mini donuts – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein..)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts
Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 10.5 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Light crumb and cakey interior. Crispy, sweet glaze. Possible dual use as an air freshener.
Cons: Overly artificial “fall spice” flavor. Cloyingly sweet. Too dry to be a really good cake donut, but not airy like a yeast donut. A lifetime of repressed pumpkin spice disappointment.