REVIEW: Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Creme Pudding

Hershey s Cookies  N Creme Pudding

If there was a Nobel Prize for food flavors, whoever invented Cookies & Crème (Cream if you prefer) should’ve been awarded one.

Sometime in the early/mid 80s, my mother and young self slid into a booth at Friendly’s for our weekly lunch and ice cream out. I spied a new flavor: Cookies & Creme. “What’s that?” I asked the waitress. “Vanilla and Oreos” she said. EXCUSE ME? OREO ICE CREAM? My tiny cookie-obsessed mind was blown. “This is the best thing ever!” I chanted after every spoonful. Ever since, it’s been my flavor magnetic north.

As fan of Jell-O Oreo Cookies ‘n Creme pudding mix, Jell-O Oreo Pudding cups, and Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme candy bars, it was a no-brainer that I would try Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme pudding cups.

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The appearance wasn’t exactly exciting for a cookie fanatic. All I saw were microscopic specks mixed into the white pudding. Maybe all the cookie bits were inside. Way inside.

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Under the foil, there was a faint whiff of cookies, but still no bits. What the hells bells was going on here? I dug around with a spoon, hoping to rile up some hidden chunks. Didn’t happen. C&C fans know that the enjoyment of any given product is dependent on the mass of cookie in relation to the overall mass. See chart 1:

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(Note this chart only goes to 70% – beyond that you risk under-creaming.)

Taste-wise, this pudding wasn’t bad. It’s reminiscent of Hershey’s candy bar of the same name – heavy sweet vanilla with a shadow of cookie. But it was missing something – cookie balls!

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The greatest part of the candy bars are the little crunchy balls. They goose the flavor and impart much-needed texture. They’re completely absent in the pudding, and it’s a real shame. It needs them. It’s just a smooth white mass that left a slightly greasy film on my tongue.

I liked this pudding, but not enough to buy again. Jell-O’s Oreo puddings were closer to the mark for me – less sweetness, less vanilla, more cookie.

This under-cookied pudding was screaming to be repurposed, so I made mini-icebox cakes out of it. Drop dollops of pudding between Oreo cookies. (I ate the fillings out of mine!) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

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The moisture from the pudding soaks into the cookies, making something like a cold cakey milk-dunked Oreo.

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(Nutrition Facts – 1 cup – 110 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1.5 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 17 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4-pack
Purchased at: Key Food
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Like a melted version of its namesake candy bar (If you like that candy bar).
Cons: A severe, drought-like lack of cookie bits or varied texture of any kind. Greasy tongue slime trail.

REVIEW: Cow Candy Pinkie Pie Strawberry Jack Cheese and Prime Punch Jack Cheese

Cow Candy Jack Cheeses

This is a review, but it’s also a cry for help. When I saw Cow Candy’s Strawberry and Fruit Punch-flavored cheeses listed in Spotted on Shelves, my gut said “Yeah, I’m having those.”

I’m so addicted to the rush of novelty flavors that even when I read about something that couldn’t possibly be delicious, I’m still compelled to track it down. Fruit-flavored cookies are one thing, but cheese? What is wrong with me? How long until I’m buying cotton-candy-flavored beef filets?

Like a true junkie, I went into this with full faith that these cheese sticks, sporting colors more appropriate for children’s spring t-shirts, would take me to snack heaven for just a moment.

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I looked past the blank yet somehow judgmental faces of the children’s cartoon characters and opened the packages. The red stick, emblazoned with Transformer Optimus Prime, was a smooth block. The My Little Pony-themed Strawberry Pinkie Pie had a pock-marked exterior. I wondered if this was a refrigeration error or if the flavors affected the textures in different ways.

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The strawberry stick gave off a tangy artificial strawberry scent – Frankenberry cereal mixed with a trace of shoe funk. The fruit punch smelled like candy-induced vomit.

When I bit into the strawberry, it crumbled, strangely, into tiny spheres. The Fruit Punch cheese behaved more like what I expected – a rubbery snap.

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Describing the taste of these cheese sticks is proving impossible, so I’ll tell you what they DON’T taste like – strawberry, fruit punch, or Jack cheese. Calling them salty/sweet feels wrong, as weren’t enough of either to do the term justice. If you removed everything good from cheese and fruit, this is what would be left. They’re just gross.

I powered my way through one of each flavor. Hours later, they still haunt me. It’s like I ate prop food not meant for consumption. They are by far the worst snack food I’ve ever encountered – my stomach is churning.

I’d intended to think up some cute way to use these cheese sticks in another snack/treat (shred them as a topping for sweet & savory mini pizzas?) but there’s really only one thing to do with them:

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All I can do now is try not to barf, and wonder when I’m going to find Jeff VanVonderen sitting on my couch telling me people love me like crazy but are worried about my novelty flavor addiction.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 stick – 80 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Nice colors! That’s it.
Cons: Disgusting taste that resembles none of the flavors advertised. Odd texture in Strawberry version. They’re making me nauseous. Do not buy them for children you’re fond of.

REVIEW: Peeps Filled Delights Vanilla Caramel Brownie

Peeps Filled Delight Vanilla Caramel Brownie

In my experience, Peeps are a polarizing force in society. You either love them passionately or think they’re the most disgusting non-food ever created. Thankfully, I made it out of childhood with my sense of whimsy intact and fall squarely in the former camp. Every year, I buy two packages of yellow chicks shortly after Valentine’s Day, and three more from the clearance bins the day after Easter.

I’ve fallen in love with every novelty flavor and dipped version of Peeps that have hit shelves in recent years. Now Peeps with a filling? And there’s a caramel version? I am overcome with the vapors – fetch me my fainting couch!

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This year’s novelty Peeps have been rebranded as “Delights.” Fitting. But because I was throwing flavors in my shopping cart in a sort of Peep-sterical fit, I didn’t at first notice the word “filled” above the Vanilla Caramel Brownie. More attention should be called to the fact that these are different than the dipped Peeps.

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The aroma inside the bag was all glorious fudge brownie. A closer sniff of the Peeps themselves was equally brownie and vanilla marshmallow. They looked like the now-standard dipped Peep – sparkling sugar-studded chick, thin shell of chocolate on the bottom, and a smattering of errant crystals clinging to the chocolate. They felt so precious in their individual cubicles – these Peeps fly business class.

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I expected the caramel filling to be a big central blob, like a jelly doughnut. Instead, it was laced throughout like a ribbon, hitting all the major geographical areas of the peep – including the furthest point of the tail. And yeah, I made the others watch while I split this guy up.

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I popped a cross-section in my mouth to get the full flavor. The caramel was beautifully thick and stayed just on the right side of the line between real and fake-tasting. The vanilla marshmallow was the typical Peeps sweetness, and the chocolate was like a shot of rich hot chocolate.

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Of course, I had to give them the head-first treatment. It’s the only real way to eat a Peep, amiright? In this case, the filling added a nice little squish, which tickled the 7-year-old in me.

These were my favorite (excluding the originals). I want more. If you love Peeps, definitely try them. If you’re a Peeps hater, these just might win you over.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 chicks – 180 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 1.75 oz 3-pack
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Brownie-caramel-marshmallow-y goodness. Peeps finally have innards!
Cons: Easy to overlook the fact that they’re filled based on the packaging.

REVIEW: Vanilla Cupcake M&M’s

Vanilla Cupcake M&M’s

The trouble with vanilla cupcake flavor is — just what IS it? Is it simply a marketing ploy because vanilla is “too boring” on its own? What exactly is added to a vanilla item to make it taste like a cupcake? If you asked me what a vanilla cupcake tastes like, I’d say vanilla – in which case, does it need any additions to make it taste like a cupcake? It feels like I’m lost in a hall of mirrors.

Enter Vanilla Cupcake M&M’s. I hoped they would solve this existential crisis for me, since Hershey’s Cupcake Kisses fell short on that task.

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The purple & polka dot theme of the packaging is attractive, but I’m not sure I would’ve chosen the Green M&M character for this bag. Cupcakes are fun and silly – the “sexy” M&M (insert eye roll here) vamping seems out of place here. Yellow’s goofy personality would be a better fit. And it would fill my head with J.K. Simmons’ voice saying “Beecher, want a vanilla cupcake?”

The aroma inside the bag was 80 percent vanilla, 20 percent…something else. Something I imagine is meant to remind one of frosting, but comes off as a chemical-y approximation.

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The intense pastel hues of these M&M’s made my eyes very happy. They definitely belong in a cute bowl on display next to a bouquet of spring flowers.

Inside, these are the white chocolate/candy coating base we’ve seen in other recent flavor releases like White Cheesecake and Boo-terscotch.

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If given a blind taste test of these M&M’s, I would swear they were vanilla milkshake flavored. I picked up on the strong vanilla flavor and I got the milky white chocolate, but the essence of “cupcake” evaded me. The frosting-esque smell didn’t carry over to the taste buds, either.

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So did these M&Ms fail at capturing that certain cupcake je ne sais quoi? Or were they right on target, since they tasted like vanilla – exactly as a vanilla cupcake would? I DON’T KNOW!

What I do know is they were delicious and I promptly ate the entire bag. If you like white chocolate M&M’s – and can ponder vanilla cupcake philosophy better than I – give these a go.

(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..)

Purchased Price: $2.55 (on sale)
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Beautiful, happy spring colors. Strong vanilla milk flavor.
Cons: A vanilla cupcake this is not. (Or is it?? My head hurts.)

REVIEW: Cinnamon Pebbles Cereal

Cinnamon Pebbles Cereal

Churros existed before I discovered them in 2009, or so I’m told. But that fateful March afternoon in a Barcelona café was a personal turning point. As in – I turn my head any time I hear the word now. “Did someone say churros?” I ask, more a plea than a question.

When Cinnamon Pebbles cereal was announced last month, it was immediately linked with churros. Blog posts breathlessly asked if the breakfast flakes would taste like them. News articles suggested making Cinnamon Pebbles-covered churros.

My churro buds were aching when I ripped open the box of Cinnamon Pebbles. The scent was definitely cinnamon, but not churro-y. It was familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it reminded me of.

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I threw a dry handful into my mouth. The size, weight and texture are the same as the classic Pebbles varieties. Then the taste revealed itself. These were not Churro Pebbles. They were the simple cinnamon sugar of my youth.

I instantly flashed back to 8 years old, finding an ancient shaker of Domino’s “Sugar ‘n Cinnamon” in the back of the kitchen cabinet. I started dumping clumps of cinna-sugar (emphasis on the sugar) over my plain Rice Chex cereal. That is precisely the taste of Cinnamon Pebbles.

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The cereal absorbed milk quickly, in typical Pebbles (and most rice cereal) fashion. The flavor stayed pretty true wet or dry, which makes me think it’s really baked in, not just a coating. It did impart some cinnamon-sweetness and a beige tint to the leftover milk, but visually not the party of brown flecks I expected.

While I loved the cinna-sugar/rice cereal combo in 1984, and eating it now was a bit of fun nostalgia, it’s 2017 and tastes have changed. Flavors have gotten more complex, exotic and sometimes silly. Hence, I can’t say that this cereal was exciting or “new.” It needed a hook to make it more modern.

Cinnamon Pebbles might have been greatly improved by adding a dash of red pepper, so I set out to do just that. I spread a layer of the cereal on a cookie sheet, sprinkled a mixture of water, ground cayenne and roasted Saigon cinnamon on top and gave it a quick toast in the oven (250 degrees, 5 minutes or so).

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The results were beyond my expectations. The extra cinnamon knocked down the overwhelming sugar and the red pepper brought a delayed warmth that hit just as I was ready to take the next spoonful. This was a cereal worth buying again.

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I also tried using the Cinnamon Pebbles as a pie crust. Filled with devil’s food instant pudding and a bit of cayenne, it was an easy and decent approximation of churros and chocolate.

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(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup cereal only – 120 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.69
Size: 11 oz. box
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Yep, they’re Pebbles alright! Pleasant throwback cinna-sugar flavor.
Cons: Too simple for novelty-seekers. Needs something to offset or amp up the cinnamon.