REVIEW: Limited Edition Cherry Cordial Delight Peeps

Limited Edition Cherry Cordial Delight Peeps

As far as childhood traumas go, cherry cordials are on the “Really, why didn’t you address this with your therapist?” list.

At seven years of age, my first efforts with cordials were an immediate disaster with red cherry, fondant, and shards of milk chocolate splashing all over my favorite Looney Tunes t-shirt (how I loved that shirt!). I tried to wash it out, but alas, not even Snuggle the Bear could save that humble garment. While I loved the taste of the cordial, fear of ruining the rest of my favorite t-shirts detracted me from ever returning to cherry cordials again.

Until today.

It seems Peeps, in all their tidy, poofy, non-goo-filled selves, are inviting me to make amends with my cherry cordial childhood traumas by putting those flavors into marshmallow form, which is a good thing because chocolate, cherry, and sugar? That’s a recipe for a party.

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Right out of the cellophane, the smell makes it clear that chocolate and cherry run the show. If you’ve ever wanted Febreze to make an air freshener that smells like maraschino cherries and brownie batter, this is for you: the bright, sugared cherry aroma completely absorbs the smell of anything within a two-foot radius.

And that smell immediately transports into the flavor. These fluffy little devils hold nothing back, going full-throttle for artificial cherry. Biting in, the red crystal sugar flecks crisp through before breaking into a white marshmallow fluffier than the luxury bath towels at the Ritz.

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The cherry flavor harkens back to a cherry popsicle or Skittle: a little tart, extremely sweet, and mildly bitter. The dark chocolate, while not astounding, is also not palm oil gunk.

On its own, it’s like a mock-up of a Dark Dove Promise, adding a woodsy note with a bit of brownie batter sweetness, but, when taken with the marshmallow, the chocolate gets swept away in the wake of cherry flavor. This can be overwhelming as the cherry, when taking in multiple bites, starts verging on medicinal, harkening back to days of tissues and trying to stomach cherry cough syrup. Those are sad days. There is no need for sad days.

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It has occurred to me that there will be a time, probably soon, in which I have a traumatic encounter with a chicken that somehow deters me from eating chickadee-shaped products. Until then, I will keep trying all the versions of Peeps, holding that particular fear, reluctance, and joy that comes with peculiar flavor efforts.

These particular Peeps could’ve suffered (as they sometimes do) by being a little too sweet, but the monitored three-chick pack kept things in check. The biggest downfall was the extent to which the fake cherry flavors muscled out the chocolate, but, taken as a whole, these reminded me of cordials: cherry takes the lead, fondant (or sugary marshmallow) stands as a sidekick, and chocolate is a background character. Not an unimportant character, per se. More like the Cabbage Vendor in Avatar: adding color and depth without being allotted much time for development.

All that said, if you love cherries, sugar, and chickadees that stare at you ominously, these are worth dishing out $1.99 to give ‘em a shot.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 Chicks – 150 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Cherry Cordial Delight Peeps
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 pack/1.5 oz.
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Cherry cordial flavors in marshmallow form. Cherry flavor similar to cherry Skittles. Quite puffy. Crispy sugar outside. No goo is involved. Non-palm-oil chocolate is used. The Cabbage Vendor in Avatar
Cons: Cherry overpowers chocolate. Red dye adds bitterness. Chickadees stare at you ominously. Childhood traumas involving cherry cordials. Non-childhood traumas involving chickens.

REVIEW: White Strawberry Shortcake M&M’s

White Strawberry Shortcake M&M’s

Eat your fruit. It’s good for you, they say. It gives you antioxidants, they say. It turns you into an Animorph and lets you shoot laser beams out of your eyeballs, they say. (They actually only say two of these. I’ll let you choose which.)

But sometimes, you don’t want fruit. Not fresh, dried, packaged or plain. Sometimes you want dye-colored, artificially-enhanced pretend fruit in all its sucrose-filled glory. BUT just because it’s pretend doesn’t mean we lower our standards. We want funky grapes, sweet-tart lemons, and a strawberry so balanced and sweet, it makes umami disappear. Who shall take up the reins and harken to our plea for a strawberry-inspired white chocolate? Who shall deliver it in morsel form??

Well, M&M’s gave it a shot.

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The multi-colored morsels tumble out of the bag, bumbling about in their charming, misshapen way. Indeed, M&M’s could start a Home Depot paint line with as many colors as they shroud their candies in these days. This time around, Mars stuck with a white, light pink, and beige color palette, or, as the paint-namers say, “Minced Onion, Palace Rose, and Vanilla Clay.”

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The bits smell distinctly of the brightness that comes from opening a bag of Skittles, and, indeed, the first bite reminds me of a Strawberry Skittle, with its sweet, floral strawberry flavor and crunchy outer shell. The shell immediately crumbles, leaving the white chocolate center to melt into goo, coating your mouth with a light, Starburst-like strawberry sweetness.

The chocolate’s not nuanced or particularly high quality, but, if my eyes don’t deceive, the ingredients list includes cocoa-butter-filled white chocolate rather than, “White Confection,” which might be better described as, “Nefarious, sweetened Vasoline born to create destruction.”

And using that white chocolate pays off. With a hint of vanilla and sugar-filled creaminess, the elements come together just enough to remind me of the strawberry and whipped topping (think: Cool Whip from the tub) often found in strawberry shortcake. Okay, so it’s missing the whole “Shortbread Biscuit” thing, but I enjoy my strawberry-shortcake-inspired bits nonetheless, reveling in the fact that I didn’t even have to open an oven to achieve such joy. Laziness, for the win.

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Life is fraught with dangers, both real and imagined. Strawberry-shortcake-flavored candy should not be one of them. M&M’s knows this. They made a sweet, strawberry morsel that harkens back to a Strawberry Skittle (my favorite flavor) enmeshed with their fudgy white chocolate.

Sure, it’s a bit sweet, not the best quality chocolate, doesn’t include a shortcake biscuit, and won’t replace your everyday fruits (remember: you need that fruit so you can shoot laser beams out of your eyeballs), but, for 2016, I hear many folks hope to do more of what they love. Hypothesizing that M&M’s likes cranking out a whole bunch of seasonally flavored morsels, it looks like M&M’s plans to do that, too. If this is how doing more of what you love tastes, I have hope.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz – 210 calories, 100 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: White Strawberry Shortcake M&M’s
Purchased Price: $3.19
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Strawberry Skittles. Crunchy shell. Creamy center. Actual white chocolate. Cool Whip from the tub. Laziness, for the win. Fruit that turns you into an Animorph.
Cons: Where’s the shortcake? Will not appeal to those who are Strawberry Starbursts/Skittles haters. Not the best quality white chocolate. Life is fraught with dangers. Being faced with too many paint colors.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Among the world of berries, raspberries are a hard sell. They’re bitter, rot fast, and are filled with teeny pulp bits that get stuck in your teeth, but they also have a distinct sweet, flowery profile that I crave at the inconvenient hour of now, when they’re overpriced, out-of-season, and tasteless.

Which is why I bit into the surface of my Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cup Cake without hesitation, cracking through the sheen of the fudgy top layer. That upper crust carries the responsibility of the “Dark Chocolate” title, and, while I wouldn’t deem it a full-blown 70 percent cacao by any stretch of the imagination, there is a certain nutty, semisweet chocolate echo at the front that I appreciate before I reach the full sugar surge underneath.

And it’s a clutter of sugary fluff under that surface, the glurping, gloopy icing poofing out like a misfit marshmallow. That frosting floof carries the texture of Cool Whip and a raspberry perfume that could rival a Bath and Body Works. Indeed, it has an artificial raspberry kick at the forefront with a high-fructose-sugary backdrop. It’s like Pillsbury frosting got put in the Super Collider with Raspberry Jelly Bellies. Pretty intense in that special, non-natural way.

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The chocolate cake is of a familiar Hostess Cupcake variety: a little oily, a little spongy, a little ho-hum on flavor, all held within a distinctive squishy texture that may or may not remind me of a Shamwow. It tastes quite simply of packaged pound cake with a little cocoa, and, while I may hope for something a little more chocolate-forward, I respect that the cake embraces what it is: a vehicle that can be enhanced by the addition of ice cream.

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In 1971, Hostess introduced Captain Cupcake, the rotund, spyglass-wielding naval officer who ate a few too many Hostess Chocolate cupcakes before turning into one. What would Captain Cupcake say about these new Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes?

I can’t say. This is mainly because Captain Cupcake is an anthropomorphic baked good with a position in the Navy, and I would regret speaking for such a high-ranking officer. For me, however, these cupcakes were neither a bonafide hit nor a heartbreaking miss.

The floofy raspberry filling was pleasant enough, the chocolate cake was moist, and the icing top held a pleasant semisweet fudginess. At the same time, the cake was a little tasteless, the preservatives were a little over abundant (is hydrogenated beef tallow really an essential ingredient?), and the false raspberry lingered a little long, but, hey, it’s tough to alter the austerity of false raspberry.

Overall, I declare this a decent cupcake for the forthcoming Valentine’s celebration. What’s better is that you’ll wait in no lines to get it, withdraw no loan to afford it, and can eat it at any hour you desire. All it takes is ripping open a plastic wrapper and maybe some ice cream. This can happen. This can happen now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.5 oz/8 cupcakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Tender cake. Fudgy icing top. Floofy filling like Cool Whip. 8 swirls of icing. Mario Kart. Captain Cupcake.
Cons: Hydrogenated beef tallow. Filling tastes a smidge like children’s toothpaste. Texture like a Super Shammy. Smells from Bath and Body Works, The unexplained disappearance of Captain Cupcake.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Raspberry Tamales

There is particular group of human beings who cannot resist a product promising a peculiar outcome. The type who must buy the exploding gumball to see their tongue turn purple. The type who invest in Netflix socks that pause one’s TV when the viewer falls asleep. The type that bids on the 1972 Pinto to see if it really explodes.* These are the humans who see uncertainties and are triggered by both an infinite curiosity and nagging stubbornness that demands, “I must find out!”

*Exploding not advised.

I am one such human. Perhaps you are, too? Being such, I was thrilled/terrified to spot these Chocolate Raspberry Tamales. Having never encountered a sweet tamale, I presume they could be wonderful. They also could be horrendous, but, as I learned when Fluffy the Cat exploded the tree in Christmas Vacation, what’s the holidays without a little strategically placed suspense?

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To wit, sweet tamales are on the reg in many regions of the world, especially in Mexico and spots of South America. They’ve been celebrated, steamed, and rustled up in variations ranging from rum raisin to dulce de leche and don’t look like they’re on any cusp of endangerment. Nonetheless, I had my hesitations. My bold and stupid hesitations.

Trader Joe’s was generous in putting instructions for steaming these in a boiling pot of water or slipping ‘em in the microwave for two minutes on half power. Wanting my journey into chocolate consumption to be swift, I opted for the microwave, buzzing one inside a damp paper towel as the apartment became infused with the smell of chocolate.

Three microwave beeps later, I unrolled the tamale from its husky shell to find what looked like a holiday fudge. Indeed, one bite was enough to convince me that someone had taken the middle of an undercooked brownie (my favorite part) and smooshed it with chocolate fudge. Avoiding the grit of hand-ground cornmeal, the masa dough is smooth and pillowy as a $2500 memory foam mattress, a texture that avoids the mealy taste of corn and allows the cocoa and semisweet chocolate to pop right out.

If this was Star Wars, those chocolate chips would be on the Dark Side. Because this is not an alternate fictional universe with evil Sith Lords, this Dark Side is for the best as the nutty, roasted coffee-like notes of the dark chocolate chips allows the sweet, fudge-like richness of the dough stand out. I’m relieved to discover that Trader Joe’s avoided the messy goop that a raspberry jelly filling might’ve entailed and instead blended the raspberries right in the dough. What they ended up with is a tamale that has hint of tart fruitiness at the end and a little warmth from the cinnamon spices they pinched in there, but, on the whole, this is all chocolate, all the time.

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No question: compared to fruitcake, this wins. Compared to the toil of making sugar cookies with festive sprinkles laboriously hand-cut into shapes of magical woodland creatures, this wins. Compared to what my mind thought this would be versus what it actually is? Oh, buddy, this wins big time, thus reinforcing, again, that the presumptions of my brain are not trustworthy.

These tamales tie in flavor with fudge, ping in with a bit of fruity variation, avoid the gloopiness of raspberry filling, and nail it on ease of preparation for a festive treat. Take note, small children: Santa Claus is coming to town and he wants some tamales, stat.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 tamale – 230 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4 tamales/10 oz. package
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Like a gooey brownie. Melty semisweet chocolate chips. No obnoxious raspberry jelly blobs. Butter is involved. Chocolate, chocolate, all the time. Strategically placed suspense. Netflix socks.
Cons: Want to eat the whole bag. Try to expand patience by putting bag away. Still want to eat the whole bag. Limited time. Will not appease raspberry lovers. Limited time. Exploding Ford Pintos. The unfortunate demise of Fluffy the Cat.

REVIEW: Peeps Sugar Plum Delight

Peeps Sugar Plum Delight

And so it was, not 72 hours ago, that I descended upon the Target, clawing like a manic puppeteer on a shopping spree at Joann’s Fabrics as I wrestled through the bips, bobs, and bags for anything in a green-and-red aluminum. I bought 3 bags of Reese’s Bells. I am not ashamed.

Indeed, I have ardent, unapologetic feelings about seasonal candy, which, unlike the rest of my life, can be expressed succinctly: EAT ‘EM ALL! So, when I finally came up for air from my shopping spree, half entranced by chocolate and fa-la-la-la-la’s, I was surprised to spot this dapper trio of chicken-shaped marshmallows in a shade of purple that seemed stuck between a grape SweetTart and a very sad Easter Bunny. I had never been so simultaneously filled with curiosity, terror, and excitement.

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They come out of the wrapper smelling of dried plums. It’s not a familiar candy smell, but, as a plum appreciator, I can’t help but admire the little buggers for going all-in to their pruney identity.

And the Peeps got all mid-level, budget-string classy up in here, what with each little chicken sporting a white fudge tux-and-tails on its rump. I love this stuff. It may not be actual chocolate, but, each time I’ve tried it, I can’t deny how its smooth melt and sugary vanilla sweetness adds a little something special to anything it touches. Fact: the easiest way to improve a mediocre marshmallow is to shroud it in fudge.

The taste of these plumy poultries is new, where “new” is defined much in the same way that a hamster might feel if it were to take a trip to an anti-gravity room at NASA: unfamiliar, wacky, and a little off.

Like all Peeps, they highlight the cool, sugary realms of the marshmallow before allowing the artificial flavoring to take hold, and that flavoring? Never lets go. It has a certain figgy jaminess followed by a bitterness that’s pretty jarring. Of course, really old dried plums (prunes) do have a certain bitter note on their tails, so maybe the bitterness makes them true-to-form and complex, which may make them trendy according to the Tastemakers of America…but who are these Tastemakers of America? And why do they like old prunes so much??

Mysteries-that-can’t-be-solved aside, the smooshy texture of the Peep itself mimicked that of a plum/prune: gritty, squishy, gooey. While the bitterness overran my tasting experience, the texture, coupled with the sweet, smooth white fudge, made for an inoffensive, new perspective in marshmallow potential.

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What is it about these three chickadees that keeps me coming back? They’re but mere overpriced marshmallows in cellophane, and yet there is something I admire about them. Is it their chicken shape? Their peculiar flavor options? The way they stare out in misshapen, googly eyed wonderment?

I do not have the answer, but sometimes curiosity outweighs logic. As for these three chicks, I’m not sure if I liked ‘em. The bitterness overpowered what could’ve been an innovative new take, but I wasn’t completely appalled by them either. They’re fascinating, if only for the high degree to which they mimic a prune in candy form. Peeps, I give you an “A” for effort, but the bitterness just knocked ‘em off the running. But, hey, don’t feel down. Sometimes you swing for the fences and hit a home run. Other times, you hit it into the dugout and knock the Gatorade cooler onto the manager.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 chicks – 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, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 29 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Item: Peeps Sugar Plum Delight
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 3 Chicks/1.5 oz.
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Kinda tastes like a sugared prune. Not appalling. Sweet fudge. Googly eyes. Hamsters in Anti-Gravity.
Cons: Kinda tastes like an especially old prune your grandmamma left out in the jar. Pricey. Metallic aftertaste. The color of a sad Easter Bunny.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe

Hershey's Kisses Deluxe

Does anyone remember Roller Riders? The early 90s As-Seen-On-TV “Scootboard” product with the catchy jingle (“It’s a scootboard!/That’s what it is!/Steers like a racecar/Glides like a skateboard/Roller rider: It’s a scootboard!”)

The thing looked something like this, but was targeted toward teens and tweens. Anybody? Anybody??

Because, presuming YouTube videos encompass all public knowledge, Roller Rider never existed. Indeed, there’s no visual archive, Vimeo documentary, botched soundtrack, or VCR-spliced upload that visually confirms it was a consumer product. Yet there’s a small handful of people who deeply miss it. Who long to scoot, race, and sing the song in the break room at our day job. We may be small, but our love for the product? Is significant.

Hardcore fans of Hershey Kisses are similar. We’re small time, but our devotion is huge. We seek the simple life, although there was that one incident where we had to get a root canal after we ate an entire bag of them at Timothy McDonald’s birthday after he busted open an entire piñata of them in 3rd grade. But other than that, totally simple. I am one such fan. Perhaps you are, too. We are the proud. The few. And we will not whither and die.

Knowing this base of steadfast devotees, Hershey generated a brand new Deluxe Kiss to fancy it up a bit. Filled with ganache, crispities, and a full hazelnut, it strays just enough from the original to be different, and yet remains simple enough to appeal to its pre-existing fans. Its profile sounds much like a Rocher truffle without the fancy name, thus making it both potentially delicious and a solid contender for the stocking-stuffing holidays ahead. But the question is: would Santa approve?

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Right out of the wrapper, things get off to a swift start with the unwrapped dots looking shiny as a Porsche dried with microfiber terry cloths. The little bell-like chocolate cones smell of nutty fudge and are about 2-3 times as big as the average Kiss, making them certified monsters. Delicious certified monsters.

Indeed, the experience only gets better once you bite in. On the front end, you get a shell covering a more creamy, ganache-like center that tastes distinctly of Hershey chocolate: a little chocolate frosting, a little vanilla, and that special twang of Whatever The Hell’s In There. There’s a whole, if somewhat diminutive, roasted hazelnut tucked in the middle, which adds a solid, nutty crunch to the creamy-crispy experience. Consuming said Kiss can be accomplished in two or three nibbles or one full, melty bite. I support the latter, always opting for the “Go big or miss out” philosophy.

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I have ridden in a Mercedes once in my life. The seats had air conditioning and sorta hugged you as you turn. It was cool, but I don’t see myself wanting to do it everyday. These Kisses are similar: they’re fun once in a while, but I could see them getting a little too frou-frou for everyday, especially with the high price point ($1.19 for 3 kisses).

But, perhaps money isn’t what’s important. Perhaps what’s important is that the Kiss, at its core, is still delicious. The addition of crispies and hazelnuts only highlight that fact. While I may not be able to afford them all the time, in my dreams, I will eat a bag of them while driving a Roller Rider into the sunset. Note to Santa: that would be a stunning Christmas gift.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 Kisses – 130 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe
Purchased Price: $1.19
Size: 3 Kisses
Purchased at: Rite Aid
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Chocolate frosting. Crispy texture. Ganache-like center. Crunchy roasted hazelnut. Eating a bag of Kisses out of a piñata. Roller Riders.
Cons: Pricey. Crispities add only poofy, texturized air. All those questionable ingredients. Where have all the Roller Riders gone? Mercedes seats that hug you are mildly creepy.