REVIEW: Reese’s Spreads

Reese's PB Choc Spread

The challenge is issued, the gloves are dropped, the physicians wait at the sidelines, ready to dress the wounds of the wounded. Who will stand above: the candy or the spread? The Modernist or the Traditionalist? Call the bluff. Claim your honor. The pistols are loaded.

Reese's PB Choc Spread Reese's Traditionalist

With cat-like reflexes, the Traditionalist makes the first move. The Reese’s candy ever remains a classic, the very foundation upon which all peanut butter candies attempt to stand. It sharpens its brass knuckles on its well-grounded history: the gritty, crumbly peanut butter insides, the hyper-sweet, milk chocolatey outsides, all nestled away in its charming paper cup. I can’t even keep it around long enough to consider if it’s less than perfect.

But then…

Reese's PB Choc Spread Reese's PB Choc Spread is made of Goodness

Stronger than a 3-horsed chariot driven by Ron Swanson, the spread busts out with a perfume of peanut butter and chocolate. Smooth, shiny, a smidge gritty from itty candy chunkies, this Righteous Goodness combines all the textural traits of a nut butter with the classic chocolate-and-honeyed-peanut-butter taste of its candy contender.

With a flavor that combines peanut butter, Nutella, and sweetened condensed milk, it’s easy to eat from the jar or spread on those 48 leftover Christmas cookies from the office party. It goes on toast. It goes on waffles. It goes on ice cream. It would make an easy job for marketers conspiring to brainwash humankind with a catchy jingle that would subconsciously influence us [i.e.: me] to buy more of it. I already blame my subconscious for the excessive number of jars I will be purchasing in the future.

Reese's PB Choc Spread Reese's Spread is trying to hypnotize you

So the shots have been fired, the dust has cleared, the cowboy audience got bored and returned to the Tavern to nurse their beer bellies. But which product emerged victorious?

Reese's PB Choc Spread Reese's duel finale-which wins?

When you’re in a duel, you are acutely interested in NOT dying, so why kill your fellow compatriot? If you shoot, s/he may very well fire in return, rupturing your aorta and, well…sayonara to that vacation to Puerto Rico. Both versions of Reese’s realize this and offer their respective qualities. One, a munchable, melty candy. The other, a smooth, chocolatey peanut spread that integrates well with anything you consider suited for peanut butter. Me? I prefer something that I can carry around in my pocket, but, dang if this spread isn’t delicious.

Perhaps more importantly, the spread proves an important point: that, despite its long history, peanut butter and chocolate live in the gullet of the confectionary world with justifiable cause. The salty-sweet combination, combined with a gritty, sugared goodness, fills a special pocket of the stomach without overwhelming. It punches you and embraces you at the same time. Like a good man hug. And what better way to start the year than with a good man hug?

(Nutrition Facts – 2 Tbsp – 190 calories, 100 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Reese’s Spreads
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 13 oz. jar
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sugary. Chocolatey. Peanut-buttery. Nubbins of candy/chunky peanut butter stirred in. Tastes just like spreadable Reese’s. 3-horsed chariots driven by Ron Swanson. Beer-bellied cowboys. Man hugs.
Cons: May induce sugar rush. May induce buying too many jars. May induce lack of pantry space after buying too many jars. Not quite as awesome as the candy, but still very awesome. Reminder that those leftover Christmas cookies are very, very stale. Catchy jingles that get stuck in your head. Vacations in Puerto Rico that don’t exist.

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REVIEW: Crispy M&M’s (2014)

Crispy M&M's (2014)

9 years, 2 months, and 13 days ago, I was shot down by Mars, coming up empty-handed in my attempts to find a bag of Crispy M&M’s. As noted by the comprehensive timeframe, I may not be over it.

Well, now I can hack off that elephantine chip on my shoulder because Crispy M&M’s are back and putting a candy-coated jingle in my step. While they come in a dashing green bag and serve as an excellent pocket-sized tambourine, let’s ask ourselves the Really Important Question: how do these suckers compare to the old Crispy M&M’s?

Crispy M&M's (2014) get the stare from George Washington

Let’s start with some basics: there are crisps and then there are Crisps.

I know.

I’ll give your brain a moment to catch up with the shocking depth of that.

*Waits.*

Now that it’s sunk in, I’m sure you’ve realized you can have a crisp (a smidgeon of a rice puff made of itty-bitty grainy bits that get stuck between your teeth) or you can have a Crisp (a giant husk that crunches, cracks, then dissolves like a massive, non-mushy rice crispy treat). The specimens found in these Ms are unquestionably Crisps. For the mathematical statisticians out there, the average M is about 80% crisp, 15% chocolate, 4% candy shell, and 1% astronaut. That description may also be 75% true.

The Crisp inside crackles on first bite, verging on malt ball territory in sheer dimension. While the Crisp tastes of little more than toasted rice and air, it picks up the slack in providing texture, carrying the burden of contrast as the smooth, super-fast melting milk chocolate rushes in.

Taken as a whole, each candy strikes a moderate balance of chocolate, candy shell, and poof, making it easy to shovel the bag into one’s mouth and/or stash the rest in a drawer so they don’t say, Eat all the bags nowwww or Do you think you could request these in 240-bag packs from Costco? or any of the other things candies say to me when we’re alone together.

Crispy M&M's (2014) tumble out all shiny

President Benjamin Harrison gave the White House its first Christmas tree in 1889. Had Harrison lived for 125 more Christmases, I suspect he would’ve slipped these M&M’s under his tree. They’re filled with sugar, chocolate, and artificial colorings in pebbly candy form. Sure, they may not blow flavor out of the water, but they taste exactly as they did in 2005. In that way, they’re dependable and, moreover, represent a Large American Company doing something Large American Companies rarely do: listen.

Mars heard the call of the American people for the return of that which they held dear and, by George, they answered. Mars gets a gold star for being good listeners. If you were a fan of the Crispy M&M’s of yore, I hope you go forth to your favorite store and haul off any burden and angst of the past as you chow down on these nubbins. Do it for your stocking. Do it for nostalgia. Do it for Benjamin Harrison.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bag/1.35 oz. – 180 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Crispy M&M’s (2014)
Purchased Price: 99 cents (on sale)
Size: 1.35 oz. bag
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 7 out of 10 (plus a special gold star for bringing back a classic)
Pros: Melty milk chocolate. Giant crisp interior. Tastes exactly as I remember them. Good listeners. 1% astronaut. Benjamin Harrison’s Christmas tree.
Cons: Crisp doesn’t add much flavor. Artificial colorings are still artificial. Things candies say when we’re alone together.

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REVIEW: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry

It started out so innocently. Because doesn’t it always?

I want something simple, but get carried away. A search for a song and I buy the album. A hankering for a show leads to the no-sleep Netflix dive. A pondering of a Christmas party and suddenly I’m considering the 3-foot inflatable snowman and $549 deluxe Santa Suit. Who needs this? (Nobody)

And yet…

I NEED THIS!

So I shouldn’t have been surprised with my reaction to these Pop-Tarts. It’s only a box. A box of six tarts. Simple. Easy.

But then I peeled back the lid. And that’s where it all began.

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry PBJ goo insides

The crust on these tarts is the pinnacle of Pop-Tarts: a crackly crumble with a slight sandy grit, the sugary peanut butter icing crackles underneath. The peanut butter insides are sweet with a hint of salt while the strawberry jelly serves as a sweet/tart counterpoint. While this inner layer’s a bit on the thin side, it all comes together with the crust to showcase a balance of icing, sugar, salt, crust, crunch, and goo. Three bites in and I felt better about my broken heater, the work I had left, and the universe at large.

But it didn’t stop there.

The opportunities for Pop-Tart creations now became a new avenue through which I could channel obsessive creativity. I was thinking of the Pop-Tarts at the Post Office, contemplating how to get the best ratio of inner goo-to-crust while standing in line at the grocery, and getting wound up about the setting of my toaster in places that did not offer the appliance I needed.

“No more!” I told myself. But it didn’t work (never does). Like the kinky pop song that gets stuck in one’s head, the only way to quell absurd, delightful obsessions is to pursue them without restraint. I knew what I had to do.

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry I ate all the PBJs

If I were a different, better person, I would tell you that I shared the rest of the Pop-Tarts with my office mates, how we parceled them between the three of us, toasted them in our toaster oven, and consumed them with generic Kirkland’s coffee, savoring their salty-sweetness.

But I didn’t share.

I ate them all. And I would do it again. Santa will, no doubt, be tempted to slip me onto the naughty list, but just wait till he sees his cookie plate. He’ll change his mind.

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry PBJ Santa's cookie plate

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Pastry – 190 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 17 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty Frosted PB & J Strawberry
Purchased Price: $1.98
Size: 6 toaster pastries/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Crackly crust. Salty-sweet. Goo. Icing with sprinkles. Excels both toasted and untoasted. Makes you feel good about the Universe. Good vehicle for convincing Santa you’ve been Nice via Cookie Plate.
Cons: Insides are a bit thin. Tempts you to not share. Kinky pop songs. $549 Santa suits.

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REVIEW: Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps

Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps

You people. You marshmallow lovers. You raucous, inscrutable, dangerously admirable marshmallow lovers. Turns out, you’ve made 232,000 Google pages devoted to “Peeps marshmallow recipes.” You have such daring. Such skill. Such eschewing of tradition. You put Peeps on your peanut butter sandwiches, in your pancakes. Sometimes, you just smack out your miniature flamethrower and torch those suckers up. Surely, I have stumbled into my confectionary tribe. You do realize this will only lead to mischief.

For example, if I were to find myself with two packs of specialty Peeps the day after Thanksgiving, who would stop me? Certainly not you. Certainly not Target. And certainly not this Peep staring at me with its big ol’ waxy eyeball.

Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps givin' me the stink eye

And for that, I am grateful because straight from the plastic veneer, Photoshopped with candy canes cut straight from the Windows 92 Clip Art book, the chickadees tumble out like gangbusters: sandy and sugary on the outside with a white fudgy coating glistening on their chickadee rumps, these might be confused for the fowl that grace the lakes of a Sugar Plum Fairy. Oh sure, they’re just glorified gelatin, but dear god, isn’t that what Peeps are all about? How can we expect anything more? How???

Because Peeps is making a promise here. A promise to dish out the Red Velvet Cake in all its cocoa-y, sugary, acidic glory. A promise to which they [somewhat] live up to.

Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps 3 little Velvets all in a row

These little mallows are sweet. Straight up sugary. Unquestionably red. The inside is sweet and cocoa-y like Duncan Hines cake batter mixed with chocolate Jell-o pudding. The outside sugar crust has the taste and texture of fine sanding sugar, but with a slight mineral aftertaste, like the faint tarnish of a cast iron skillet (because the party hasn’t started until Red #40 brings the bite of metallic cookware, am I right?)

Thankfully, the white fudge is there to pick up the slack with melty, smooth sweetness. Traditionalists, be forewarned: this isn’t cream cheese icing. Heck, it’s mainly palm kernel oil and dextrose, but it does have a quick melt and is dappled with little sprinkles, making a good show for those who subscribe to the buttercream predilection. If you like your icing sweet, dig in, but, if you’re sensitive to sugar overdose, you may feel like you’re being smacked in the head by a tetherball. Only you can know your limits. Just make sure you bring a graham cracker. S’mores will be in your future.

Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps Peeps cross section

It’s easy to think of new products as a long chain of evolving improvements, as a never-ending advancement toward largeness and complexity, but Peeps knows not to flatter itself with such delusions. They thrive, nay, celebrate the creation of the same marshmallow sensation over and over. These Peeps are a pretty good riff on that variation. At the best of times*, they made me feel like I was eating cake batter straight outta Martha Stewart’s golden Kitchen Aid. Other times, I felt like I was eating the crust of a rusty nail.

*The worst of times was when I had just put lotion on my hands and wrestled to open the package for 15 minutes.

Aftertastes and mistimed use of moisturizer aside, these Peeps provide marshmallow lovers something different while still sustaining the unique, smooshed Peeps signature. Sure, they may not be astounding, but they remind me that, even when life’s not astounding, I can be grateful that it doesn’t completely suck.

Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps Red Velvet Peeps teach us a life lesson

(Nutrition Facts – 3 Chicks/1 pack – 150 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Item: Limited Edition Red Velvet Peeps
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 Peeps Pack
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Doesn’t completely suck. Duncan Hines cake batter. Squishy. Festive fudge glaze. Reason to make s’mores. Reason to pursue Mischief. Windows 92 Clip Art.
Cons: Doesn’t completely suck. Red #40 tastes like a cast iron skillet. Glaze is mainly palm oil and dextrose. Getting smacked by a tetherball. Poorly timed use of moisturizer.

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REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Ever since buying this tub, I’ve woken up to a THWUMB, THWUMB, THWUMB outside my window. Upon investigating, I find nothing at the window. I am convinced it is a) a very stupid pigeon, b) the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe, or c) a telepathic message from Professor X that states, “Margaret…you’re a Mutant. You must join the X-Men!” No matter which, it’s clear this thing eats cookie butter cups and wants them bad, but can’t quite figure out the whole “opening the window” thing (hence why it is not a breed of hyper-intelligent monkey or particularly creepy human).

But it makes perfect sense for this creature to try to get in every morning to obtain this little tub of aluminum-studded cups. Let me tell you why.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups TJ Cookie Butter cup escapes from foil

Sparing us from frippery of fluted cups, Trader Joe’s delivers a simple, complete concept right out of the golden foil. The size of a mini Reese’s Cup but with a firmer, darker outer shell, these start off with a striking visual impression, a sensation that swiftly carries over to the taste.

This is not a hyper-sugared confection that coats your tongue, no glucose-ridden lozenge that burns as it courses down as if the Almighty were ripping out your trachea. No, this is just quality semisweet chocolate, dark, bitter, and smooth like a 1965 Clint Eastwood riding out into the vengeance-ridden dusk.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup insides!!

Stuffed into each nub is a generous helping of cookie butter paste. Smooth, but slightly crumbly, that inner spread tastes of the named pulverized Speculoos cookies, highlighting the oat-cinnamon streusel notes. This filling, coupled with the woodsy, coffee-wisped chocolate, pushes this candy to the top, the cream of the crop, the Chrome Viking Refrigerators of confectionary-dom.

Just one problemo: there are only 28. Sure, it’s a pretty good number, but for $4.99, I do wish there were a few more. Desperate to hold on for as long as possible, I tried to ration them out. Like today: I’ll only have 2 cups…or maybe 3…or 4…

(2 hours later, upon emptying tub)

Sugar is GOOD!!! I feel I could pick up a lawnmower and fling it across a baseball field! I am invincible! I am unstoppable! I AM a Mutant!

(1 hour later, upon going to Home Depot and looking at lawnmowers)

I overestimated myself. I am not a Mutant. I am not even an Animorph. I am more like the lanky, awkward teenager hired to stand outside the store dressed in a paper mache koala suit. Nothing near a Mutant. Just a mortal, attempting to down a bag of sugar, chocolate, and crumbled cookies.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup sculpture

But maybe that’s okay. It certainly doesn’t make these cookie butter cups any less delicious. With such quality semisweet chocolate and a good ratio of cookie butter stuffed in each, who needs to be a mutated superhero? Maybe I could become one if I were to share these with that creature that rattles at my window, but me? Share these? I think I would rather be trampled by a fleet of rabid pigeons.*

*Not sure if pigeons can contract rabies.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 pieces – 180 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 11 oz. tub
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Smooth chocolate. Crumbly insides. Streusel-like filling. Nice balance of sugary insides to bittersweet outsides. Provides you with enough energy to throw a lawnmower. Messages from Professor X.
Cons: Those sensitive to dark chocolate may be sad. Runs out quickly. I am not a Mutant. Rabid pigeons.

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