REVIEW: Neapolitan M&M’s

Neapolitan M M s

When I read that M&M’s were making a Neapolitan variety, my first thought was “Is that still a thing?” I haven’t had Neapolitan ice cream since I was a kid in the 80s. My mother would bring home tubs of the cheapest store-brand tri-colored treat and daintily shave off layers from all flavors equally. Then I would excavate every molecule of strawberry ice cream until it looked like David Copperfield made it disappear with jazz hands and a hypnotic stare.

Never mind that chocolate was actually my favorite ice cream; I had to take the strawberry. This irritated my mother to no end. But she kept buying Neapolitan and I kept eating a neat one-third of it.

Now it’s 2018 and I don’t think I’ve heard Neapolitan referred to as a flavor in more than 20 years. I wanted to try the M&M’s, but wondered if I could resist the urge to only eat the pink ones.

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The aroma inside the bag was mostly chocolate. The visual was a bit of a surprise – the vanilla pieces were a rich cream color instead of white. Yes, I know, the bag clearly depicts them as cream-colored, but I was taken by the overall packaging color scheme – which was WHITE. Just sayin’.

Despite there being three colors, the flavors of the pieces are the same. Yes, I know, the bag clearly says all three flavors in every piece, but I thought the pink ones might be strawberry-dominant, cream more vanilla, etc. This disconnect didn’t affect my feelings about them overall, but again – just sayin’.

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My first taste impression was a strong strawberry and chocolate flavor. But instead of taking me back to the freezer with an ice cream scoop, Neapolitan M&M’s brought me back to the breakfast table. They are the solid orb version of a bowl of Frankenberry and Count Chocula cereals combined. The strawberry was a pretty spot-on facsimile of Frank, my personal strawberry flavor touchstone. My memory of Neapolitan strawberry is a much more subtle flavor than Frank. The chocolate was close enough to The Count to make the comparison, although hardcore Chocula fans might disagree. I’d expected a real ice cream experience, but my love of monster cereals made it still a successful combo in my opinion.

I couldn’t immediately find the vanilla. But as I plowed through the bag and thought about the cereal comparison, the case of the missing vanilla was solved. It’s the milk in the cereal bowl. It made total sense because most M&M’s vanillas taste like milk to me. It took a bit to find because it’s a supporting actor here – Frank and The Count are center stage, which was alright by me.

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Overall, I thought these were fun and tasty. Kids will love them because of the child-friendly flavors, as will nostalgic adults. I think M&M’s are most successful when they’re tinkering with fillings/textures (nuts, caramel, crispy), but these are on the higher end of the flavor-only M&M’s varieties. Bella Napoli!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz./16 pieces – 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of total sugars, 17 grams of added sugars, and 1 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.19
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Nostalgic flavor combination that smacks of Monster Cereal goodness. All three flavors in every piece kept me from eating only the pink ones
Cons: Not really ice cream-ish (if that’s a deal breaker for you). Showing/telling me things on the packaging that I ignore and am later surprised by.

REVIEW: Pillsbury Grands Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Rolls

Pillsbury Grands Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Rolls

Is there anything better than gooey cinnamon rolls, hot out of the oven, while you’re trapped inside during a blizzard? There is, and it’s Pillsbury Grands Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Rolls. I got my hands on Pillsbury’s new concoction at the perfect moment – right before the “bomb cyclone” dumped snow and ice all over my world.

The best part of making Pillsbury rolls is the exquisite tension of opening the tube. It’s pressurized, like a doughy grenade. I start with tentative pokes of a spoon into the cardboard seam, expecting the BOOM to take my fingers off – or worse. When that doesn’t work, I start really digging in, still in expectant terror of explosion. Nothing. Finally, I’m a spoon-wielding maniac, stabbing from arm’s length until I hit the seam right on and a quiet POOF comes from dough and air squeezing through the tiny slit in the cardboard. Extremities intact, heart racing, I wrestle the tube open.

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I had to re-spiral the dough once separating the five rolls from each other. Mass production and tube pressure mushes them out of shape and I simply cannot abide a wonky roll. Some chocolate filling flaked off in the process, but I sprinkled most of it back on.

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After baking for the prescribed time (the low end – I’m impatient), I had five gorgeous rolls with decadent velvety brown spirals. I only got a mild chocolate aroma, but lots of the standard kitchen-filling baked goodness smell.

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I like to ice my rolls when they’re warm, not hot – this way it melts but stays mostly on the top & sides. While I waited for my buns to cool, I snuck a taste of the marshmallow icing. It was like a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff fell into the traditional Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll icing.

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Once iced, it was time to dig in. While snow whirled around outside, I uncoiled the first finished product. As with any good cinnamon roll, it started a little crusty on the outside and turned progressively soft and gooey as I moved further into the spiral.

The chocolate filling did remind me of a cup of Swiss Miss – a light but tasty cocoa flavor. With the deep chocolate color, I expected a more pronounced taste, but I really enjoyed the restrained milky/marshmallow feel. They were absolutely delicious and before I knew it, three were gone and I had to save the other two for the remaining people in the house who would definitely judge me for eating them all.

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I didn’t try to pair these with a mug of hot cocoa – I was eating them too fast to even stop for a drink – but next time I’d try them with hot cider. And there will definitely be a next time.

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Overall, this was like cinnamon roll’s cuter cousin from out of town came to visit. We had a winter fling and now I’ll go back to cinnamon – until hot cocoa visits again.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 roll with icing – 300 calories, 60 calries from fat, 7 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 530 milligrams of sodium, 56 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 24 grams of sugars and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.78
Size: 17.5 oz. tube (5 rolls)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Hot Cocoa Rolls > Bomb Cyclone. Laid-back chocolate flavor. Packaging that scares the bejeezus out of me.
Cons: Having to share with others. Limited Edition = having to say goodbye to my winter romance.

REVIEW: Drake’s Fudge Dipped Devil Dogs

Drake s Fudge Dipped Devil Dogs

I like my food plain and dry. I eat sandwiches without condiments. Cereal without milk. I credit two things for this strange (according to the world) habit. First, the “Don’t Drown Your Food” public service announcement that ran during Saturday morning cartoons. What can I say, it really stuck with me. Second, the driest snack cakes known to mankind – Devil Dogs. It’s little wonder these cakes are bone-shaped, as in “Dry as a…”

As a child, I took it as a test of my junk food mettle to down a whole Devil Dog (or multiple) without a drink. It was the ‘80s equivalent to the Cinnamon Challenge. Nobody could power through those little Saharas like me. It’s a wonder I survived to adulthood without fatally aspirating a chunk of chocolatey desiccant. Sure, there was a layer of frosting between the layers, but we all know that did nothing to offset the plastic-wrapped drought that is Devil Dogs.

Despite Devil Dogs’ apparent desire to kill me, I love them dearly. They are second only to Hostess Cupcakes in my all-time rankings. But they’ve sat out the recent novelty flavor trend, hence I haven’t paid them much attention lately. So I was delighted to see them re-enter the arena with a new iteration – fudge-dipped. I like it, DD – keeping close to your roots. No garish colors or artificial fruit filling, just more of what you already do well.

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Inside the individual wrappers, I was greeted by the familiar Devil Dog aroma – cocoa-cocoa-cocoa. But a new sensation enveloped my fingers – slightly moist melty chocolate. Like the Ring Dings and Yodels’ shells, Devil Dogs’ new thinny thin covering was body heat sensitive and easily left traces of itself on my hands.

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Compelled by habit, I took the biggest bite possible, expecting the lovely arid velvet to cling to my throat as usual. But three things happened: 1) the fudge coating paved the way for an easy swallow. 2) the cake itself seemed to be slightly less dehydrated – perhaps the chocolate cover held more moisture inside? And 3) the frosting layer was lighter. My memories of Devil Dog filling was a thick, sweet slab. This filling was more like marshmallow – sticky with tiny air pockets. This was a nice change.

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The basic flavor of Devil Dogs was intact – the cocoa cake and the sugary sweet filling. The fudge dip tasted just like Yodels’ and was a logical extension of this classic ‘Dog. The refined textures appealed to the 40+ year-old me who’d rather not eat tiny cakes with the Grim Reaper standing behind me, waiting for his chance.

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Overall, if you’re a fan of Devil Dogs, this is a treat to try. If you can’t handle the realness of Devil “Dry AF” Dogs, you might just be able to take these, with a glass of milk in reach.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 280 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of total sugars and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 18.32 oz. box (8 cakes)
Purchased at: Food Emporium
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Familiar Devil Dog cocoa flavor and Yodel-y chocolate shell. Lighter, fluffier filling. Not being choked by complete, utter dryness.
Cons: Not being choked by beautiful, beautiful dryness. I can’t let it go. I just can’t.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Gold Peanuts & Pretzels Bar

Hershey s Gold Peanuts  Pretzels Bar

HERSHEY’S GOLD – IT’S THE FIRST NEW HERSHEY BAR FLAVOR IN 20 YEARS!!! At least that’s what the press release and news articles screamed.

But didn’t I review a new Hershey’s Cherry Cheesecake bar flavor. a few months ago? And wasn’t I snarfing down Candy Corn and Candy Cane flavors recently? Yes, but Hershey’s says it’s the first non-chocolate flavor release since Cookies ‘n’ Creme in 1995. Like the C&C bar, Hershey’s Gold is a creme-based bar.

How is that different than a flavored white chocolate bar? I fell into a rabbit hole of internet research on what’s considered real “chocolate” and comparing ingredients from various Hershey’s bar flavors.

Three hours later, I realized there was a candy bar next to me, being NOT eaten. Focus! Let’s just say it’s a new Hershey’s bar flavor and consume it already.

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This bar is a deep golden hue, as promised. The peanut and pretzel bits mixed in were tiny shards. I expected larger peanut chunks and hoped for crunchy pretzel balls in the style of the Cookies ‘n’ Creme cookie balls.

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A fun surprise was the new pip layout (yes, that’s what those squares are called, apparently). Instead of the standard uniform rectangles, these are offset with some larger ones. The design initially looked asymmetrical, but came together to satisfy my sense of geometric justice.

On first smell, this thing is ALL peanut butter. On first taste, same thing. Overwhelmingly peanut butter. I can’t discern any pretzel taste beyond a slight burst of salt. Same with the caramelized creme – a little toasty sweetness. These are flavors I associate already with peanut butter and PB-flavored foods, however, so to me they’re hard to separate out. What they do is blend seamlessly to make a really nice peanut butter bar. It’s creamy and salty and sweet, but not too much of any of those things.

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The texture was slightly crunchy, but a far cry from what I’d expect from peanuts and pretzels. As a big pretzel fan, I was disappointed in their shallow presence here. Had this been billed just a peanut butter bar, I’d say this was a great entry.

But the larger issue was — was it s’moreable? I grabbed some holiday Peeps and graham crackers and headed to the microwave. (Yeah, I’m one of those.)

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18 seconds later – Holy peanuts, Batman. These are great. I think this bar is far more interesting as s’mores than as a candy bar.

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(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 220 calories, 14 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of total sugars, 17 grams of added sugars, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.39
Size: 1.4 oz. bar
Purchased at: Duane Reade
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good peanut butter flavor. New artsy pip design. Incredibly S’morable.
Cons: Are you there pretzels? It’s me, Rachel. Still haven’t figured out the whole “first non-chocolate bar in 20 years” thing.

REVIEW: Spangler Oreo Candy Canes

1 Spangler Oreo Candy Canes

Christmas Creep is bad, right?

No one wants to see ornaments and stocking stuffers out on display in October. It’s a silent judgement — haven’t you thought about what you’re getting Aunt Mary yet? What’s taking you so long? All this great stuff will be gone by the time you start shopping after Thanksgiving.

But Christmas Candy Creep is A-OK by me! I love walking into a store on November 1st to find Halloween candy on clearance AND a full selection of holiday treats ripe for the picking. So after checking out the 80 percent off Halloween Pop-Tarts to my left, I was delighted to see a brandy-new tower of Oreo Candy Canes on my right. I’ve been waiting for you, my pretties. Come sit with me by the fire.

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Visually, these candy canes fit the bill. Brown and white stripes mimic the shades of Oreo cookies & filling perfectly. These would look great on a table display with muted tones, but perhaps not the best for tree decorating – stick with the white/bright colors for contrast.

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Inside the package, there was no aroma. After shedding the individual wrappings, the canes themselves sported a prominent chocolate scent. It was identifiable as “Oreo,” but not authentic Oreo. It was more like a Bonnie-Bell-Lip-Smackers version of Oreo. Not unpleasant, but you won’t forget you’re consuming an approximation of that famous cookie.

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Moving onto taste. I regret to inform you there isn’t really any. A few licks in, I suspected the taste and smell were one in the same, so I did the old “hold your nose while you eat” test. All hint of Oreo disappeared. It was just a sugary stick. Since most of us (myself included) experience food with our eyes, nose, and mouth, I didn’t consider this a deal breaker, just a bit of a bummer. If you’re smell-challenged, however, don’t bother with these. Instead of “Oreo flavored,” these should probably be called “Oreo scented.”

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, you can fashion them into the traditional holiday weapon of childhood – the candy cane shiv.

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Overall, they’re a fun change from the usual candy cane offerings – particularly for Oreo fanatics. I enjoyed them, but these were a “one-and-done” choice. I don’t think I’d get them again. 

But since I’m in holiday craft warm-up mode, I wanted to use these in a gingerbread house project. Six sheets of graham crackers (cut with a serrated knife), a cup of Oreo minis, some royal icing cement and you’ve got the basic structure. 

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One Oreo candy cane makes the door frame and roof topping. Two canes (crushed with a rolling pin) make the gravel around the house. Throw in some icing dots and hearts and voila! You’ve got yourself an Oreo holiday house!

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(Nutrition Facts – 1 cane – 45 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of total sugars, 9 grams of added sugars, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 5.3 oz. box (12 candy canes)
Purchased at: Tops
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Fun gift or snack for Oreo fanatics. Great addition to holiday food displays and crafts. Strong “Oreo” aroma.
Cons: Had to put quotes on “Oreo” aroma. Smell definitely came to the party, but didn’t bring its friend flavor.