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.

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 3

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.

REVIEW: Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Little Debbie is a girl who’s got dresses for every season, every holiday, and every occasion. I can imagine her right now examining her extensive wardrobe of flavors. “No, a Boston Creme Roll won’t do for June, nor will a Strawberry Shortcake Roll quite capture September. I must put on something distinctly autumnal!”

Of course, something “distinctively autumnal” means changing out the vanilla cake with “pumpkin spice.” But is Little Debbie’s beauty only skin deep? Are all the dresses and flavors just scaffolds covering a stale, cloyingly sweet snack cake whose best days are long behind her?

Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls 2

Clearly, further investigation was in order. Each individually wrapped roll is easy on the eyes, their orange hue are attractive this time of year. A drizzle of icing and voluptuous cream filling practically spills out of the cake, and despite a $1.99 price tag and and no mention of pumpkin on its ingredient list, I fell hard.

But after trying them, I realized the rolls are all style and no substance. A pretty face but no personality. There’s pumpkin-flavored, pumpkin spice-flavored, and then there’s these; orange with specks of brown suggesting cinnamon and nutmeg which just aren’t there. Through many pumpkin seasons, I’ve learned few pumpkin products can ever live up to the platonic idea of a pumpkin pie. But as for the Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls, this brings pumpkin spice to a new low.

That said, I can’t turn away from Little Debbie. I can’t just shoot her a text and be like, “Hey, that’s cool, but yea, no.” To tell you the truth, I kind of liked them, albeit in a secret rendezvous, tell absolutely nobody about this sort of way.

The cake is at first dense, chewy, and hyper sweet, a common theme the icing carries on with a fake vanilla flavor. Yet the filling, normally a mix of confectioner’s sugar and cream cheese in traditional pumpkin or pumpkin spice rolls, is where it’s at.

Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls 3

If I didn’t know better, I would have said Little Debbie robbed a Hostess plant, because the filling tastes exactly like what’s in a Twinkie. It’s lighter than you’d expect, but ooey-gooey just the same, degenerating into a cloying and sticky cream that has just enough artificial palm oil richness to make you sort of put it in the realm of Oreo filling.

Little Debbie: I’m on to your game. And frankly, all these bells and whistles of the seasons, the changing of the dresses, they work and they don’t work. Your Pumpkin Spice Rolls offer absolutely nothing seasonal, and although the Twinkie filling and super sweet cake may be enough to make schmucks like me enjoy them, they won’t be confused for an actual pumpkin spice roll.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 roll – 260 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 270 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 6 pack
Purchased at: United Supermarkets
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Twinkie-inspired cream filling. Super-sweet and ooey-gooey. Moist and dense cake. Giving into childhood cravings. Perhaps the first Little Debbie product I’ve found without partially hydrogenated oil.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like pumpkin or pumpkin spice. Very one note in sweetness. Not nearly as good as the pumpkin roll your mother made, or the one you bought at the Walmart bakery. Incredibly messy to eat.

REVIEW: Funyuns Steakhouse Onion

Funyuns Steakhouse Onion

Of all the snacks in the crunchy family and salty genus, Funyuns remain one of the more overlooked specimens. Like the wild Australian Dingo, it defies simple classification. Are Funyuns onion rings? Nope. Are they fun? Not really. What exactly do they taste like? Um…you get the point.

Still, like the untamed dog-wolf hybrid that only lives in the Australian dessert, the corn-based, popped onion ring-shaped “things” have their place. Granted, this place is usually confined to the tops of guilty-pleasure snack lists and last second checkout line additions, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that Funyuns are easily one of the most underrated snacks on the market. That’s why I had to get my hands on one of the few flavor variations we’ve ever seen from Funyuns — the new Steakhouse Onion Flavored Rings.

If you’re expecting a trip to the Australian Outback Outback Steakhouse in the strip mall down the street, you may be disappointed. Consuming a Bloomin’ Onion appetizer (preferably on your own) is an experience unto itself, and I would never deny a skilled botanist the chance to cultivate what is essentially a 2000 calorie deep fried allium in the shape of a sagebrush.

Funyuns Steakhouse Onion 4

Still, the Funyuns Steakhouse Onion Rings capture that zesty flavor and crisped texture which makes “onion-flavored” a flavor, while providing just enough savory and salty corn aftertaste to remind you that you’re not actually eating a raw onion, which would probably be pretty disgusting.

The thing is, they’re not terribly different from the standard Funyuns, a fact which could either be good or bad depending on your stance on Funyuns. The additional flavor—in reality just a bit of tomato-y sweetness, black pepper, and garlic seasoning—is moderate, but doesn’t win the battle for the aftertaste, which remains distinctively like the classic Funyun.

Funyuns Steakhouse Onion 3

Similarly, the there’s no texture variation from your good ‘ol Funyuns. For me that’s a big deal. I love the aerated fried crispness of Funyuns, which in a lot of ways remind me of Asian shrimp chips, but I can see how the lack of a really substantial crunch can be problematic. Likewise, the salty corn and onion powder aftertaste which characterizes regular Funyuns still wins the flavor fight, so unless you’re already well indoctrinated into team zesty onion ring snack, it’s unlikely you’ll be swayed over by the additional seasoning.

Funyuns Steakhouse Onions rings have all the great characteristics that have helped to make Funyuns such a niche (some might say cultish) snack, with just enough zest and seasoning to kind of sort of taste like Outback Steakhouse’s iconic appetizer. They won’t leave you saying “g’day,” and aren’t going to win over any new converts from the chip world, but they make a great addition for those of us looking for a new take on a guilty pleasure snack.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 270 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Funyuns Steakhouse Onion Flavored Rings
Purchased Price: $3.28
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Classic Funyuns texture and fried crunch. Zesty seasoning is a bit sweet, a bit salty, and very garlicky and peppery. Aftertaste combines the best of the shrimp chip world with the best of the corn nuts world. The wild Dingo of the chip aisle.
Cons: Not an acceptable substitute for an iconic Outback Steakhouse appetizer. Seasoning adds only moderate flavor value. Strong corn aftertaste may be distracting for some. The inconsistent spelling and phonetic usage of “onion” compared to “Funyun.”