REVIEW: Reese’s Caramel Big Cup

While I love The Impulsive Buy for padding my grocery list with fun new items, I also value it as a historical record of all the products I’ve loved before (or never got to try or barely remember).

Digging into the archives reminded me that a Reese’s Caramel Cup once existed circa 2005. But that was then, and now it’s time for an upgrade. After recent varieties filled with such treats as salty snacks, candy pieces, and cereal, Reese’s Big Cup is embracing caramel, that candy bar classic. Combining a layer of caramel with its quintessential peanut butter filling, Reese’s Caramel Big Cup is available in standard or King Size packages.

Knowing what to expect from a standard Big Cup, I was most interested in the caramel element. A slim layer sits at the bottom of the cup, beneath the generous peanut butter core. It’s smooth and loosely textured, but not runny. When I cut the Big Cup in half with a knife, the caramel reminded me of jarred caramel ice cream topping: it is soft enough to coat parts of the blade, but not so thin as to be messy. Yes, I did feel like Sweeney Todd in this moment if he were either very hungry for a sweet treat or just trying his best to transfer his dark urges to something more wholesome.

There seems to be a very thin layer of chocolate separating the peanut butter and caramel, so the two don’t mix together too much. It’s possible to taste them separately. The caramel is sweet, buttery, and soft. You don’t get the chew of a Twix or Snickers caramel here. When all elements combine, the caramel gets a little lost, but it enhances the Big Cup’s sweetness. Overall, the Big Cup tastes like a regular Reese’s, just sweeter. The Big Cup is a good vehicle for caramel because it provides a solid structure to encase what is often a messy ingredient. If the cup had dedicated a tad more space to it, the caramel’s buttery tones might have harmonized more equally with the peanut butter flavor.

Without the historical archives of The Impulsive Buy, I might not remember the Reese’s Caramel Big Cup in ten years’ time. (That Great Gatsby-level of pining is reserved for the Elvis Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Reese’s Cup, thank you very much!) But for now, it’s a nice, slightly sweeter variation that I may pick up next time my sweet tooth goes into overdrive.

Purchased Price: $2.28
Purchased at: Walmart
Size: 2.8 oz (79 g) King Size package
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 1 cup) 190 calories, 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s

Vanilla has a PR problem. Not just a flavor, vanilla is often used as a pejorative adjective meaning “ordinary, conventional, or plain.” Something referred to as “vanilla” can be unadventurous, bland, or boring. After all it has done for us, does vanilla deserve such disrespect?

Maybe due to the word’s connection, I can’t think of many candies that prominently advertise vanilla as a major flavor. Enter M&M’s to make the ordinary special with White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s, this year’s seasonal offering from the brand. When I discovered the product, I had questions: Is a vanilla M&M just a white chocolate M&M wearing a different label? What makes it toasty? What is the M&M on the package drinking, and where can I get one?

If the cure for boredom is curiosity, tasting the White Chocolate Toasty M&M’s may cure your assumption that vanilla is a dull flavor. Unlike some white chocolate, the M&M’s core is not merely sweet and definitely not cloying. There is real vanilla flavor that enjoys a certain degree of complexity, similar to the taste of vanilla bean ice cream.

However, that comparison isn’t perfect because of the M&M’s added “toastiness.” To me, this comes through as a subtle hint of cinnamon. (For inquiring minds, the ingredients list offers only “natural and artificial flavors,” with no mention of vanilla or any kind of spice.) When I opened the bag, the aroma reminded me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but the flavor wasn’t nearly as heavy on spice. Think leftover cinnamilk – if you love to douse your cereal, that is – with an added hit of vanilla, or even a subtly-spiced horchata. Together, the flavors melt into a rich, creamy concoction that probably tastes similar to whatever Green M&M is drinking on the package. The only unsolved mystery of this seasonal treat: will she share her recipe?

If you use seasonal M&M’s for your holiday treats, please note that these M&M’s are on the large side and colored white, beige, and brown. The candy shell shades may not have a standard holiday or winter color scheme, but they will remind you to double-check your toaster dial at breakfast tomorrow.

Even if you typically bypass vanilla for bolder flavors, don’t mistake White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s for boring or ordinary. The depth of vanilla flavor, enhanced by a hint of toasty warm spice, tastes like coziness wrapped in a candy shell, proving one thing: It’s okay to be vanilla, but it’s even better to be toasty vanilla.

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 2.47 oz (70 g) Share Size bag
Purchased at: Sheetz
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per half pack/35 g) 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 23 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Starbucks Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte

As readers of a junk food blog may agree, there is nothing quite like buying yourself a little treat, whether you’ve done anything to deserve it or not. When that treat is a beverage, I will choose a chai latte nine times out of ten. I love them so much that I have tested and ranked the chai lattes offered by (almost) every café in my city. When a craving hits, even the low-ranked ones hit the spot. However, my favorites are often an equal measure of tea, milk, sweetness, and spice. Chai spice blend preferences are about as personal as one’s coffee order, but I like a peppery bite as well as a hint of vanilla.

I both love and resent chai lattes for occupying so much of my mental space that could be dedicated to other things, like remembering the names of my colleagues’ kids or establishing a regular dusting schedule.

Again, my priorities were set when I tasted the Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte, a new item on Starbucks’ winter menu. The iced beverage base consists of Starbucks’ chai concentrate, chai syrup, and oatmilk. An oatmilk froth flavored with gingerbread syrup tops the drink, along with a sprinkle of pumpkin spice. (Sadly, my order was missing the pumpkin spice. I shouldn’t take it personally. And yet….)

To add gingerbread syrup only to the froth felt like an odd choice. The flavor was noticeable (and at times trickled down into the drink’s base), but I expected it to shine more brightly. Mostly cinnamon and molasses, the gingerbread flavor tasted good, but lacked any real punch of ginger. (Gingerbread fans may wish to try the hot version of the drink, which contains both chai and gingerbread syrups in the base. Share your findings, please!)

The oatmilk in the base was delicious, contributing a thick, creamy richness and subtle nutty flavor. It was very sweet, which I’m not opposed to. The creaminess seemed to dominate, throwing off the spice ratio. As with the froth, the spice in the base seemed very cinnamon-forward. Even though Starbucks’ chai concentrate contains black pepper and ginger, the drink somehow lacked the bite I expect from chai. Generally, it was more reminiscent of pumpkin spice.

Don’t get me wrong, the drink still tasted good — creamy and sweet, with enough sugar, spice, and caffeine to nudge a few dopamine receptors out of bed. However, the Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte oversells the promise of ginger; by confining the gingerbread flavor to the froth, no component fully delivers what could have been vibrant spice. This limited time offering isn’t in my top tier of seasonal beverages or chai lattes, but it will still quell a sweet treat craving.

Purchased Price: $5.45
Size: Tall – 12 fl oz.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 290 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 55 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 36 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies

As a former child and current adult who requires a snack plate to feel truly at peace, I know a thing or two about Lunchables. In fact, most of my culinary preferences revolve around variety, portability, and the ability to arrange different foods in a cute little segmented container.

Now the Lunchables brand has extended its offerings well past cheese and crackers — and, for the first time, into the frozen food aisle. Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies delivers frozen, microwavable grilled cheese sandwiches in two varieties: Original and Pepperoni Pizza.

I tested the Pepperoni Pizza flavor because why wouldn’t I? The package contained two full sandwiches, individually nestled in microwavable crisping sleeves and wrapped in plastic. The preparation was easy: remove the plastic, nuke the sandwich in its crisping sleeve for one minute, and then let it cool for another minute. The hardest part of the process was using the word “cheesie” as a noun.

The result smelled and tasted deliciously buttery, as though the cheesie (no, still weird) had just emerged from a sizzling pan. The crisping sleeve clearly did its job to encourage toasty texture on every surface of the bread, while still retaining some absorbed butter. Although crispy, the bread seemed to get chewier as time elapsed. The crusts were just plain tough.

The filling consisted of a slice of creamy, well-melted processed cheese, one to two tablespoons of marinara sauce, and three slices of pepperoni. Everything together made for a warm and comforting bite, and the pepperoni and marinara were just enough to ensure that the flavor wasn’t boring. The cheese would appeal to kid and adult tastes alike, but another slice — preferably added to the plain slice of bread — would have amped up the cheese flavor and helped the sandwich to adhere together as a whole.

Depending on one’s appetite, Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies would make a fast, convenient (although hard to chew) snack or meal component at a low price point. Older kids could easily prepare a cheesie independently at home, but keep in mind that sending frozen foods to school can be tricky. If your child is prepared to negotiate a lunch box filled with ice packs and locate a kindly lunch-lady or lunch-lord to help them use the school microwave, then they have more fortitude than I do and deserve all the grilled cheesies in the world.

If that is too many cheesies (okay, I’m getting used to it), start with two for the Lunchables fan in your life. Although the product isn’t perfect, it delivers the comfort and convenience that so many have come to love from the brand.

Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: 6.2 oz box (2 pack)
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per sandwich): 300 calories, 18 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 660 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Van Leeuwen Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream Pint design

It’s no secret that Van Leeuwen likes to push the boundary between sweet and salty with its unconventional limited edition flavors. Yet, when these flavors are released, there is always some element of incredulity that someone decided to turn that into ice cream.

Van Leeuwen’s latest creation appears to hold a mirror to its audience, revealing its unorthodox creation as a product of our own junk food impulses. Van Leeuwen Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream is a limited edition variety that flavors traditional vanilla French ice cream with malted barley and potato flakes to mimic an old-school diner favorite. “If you’ve ever dipped your fries in a milkshake,” the product seems to imply, “think twice before judging whatever we come up with next.”

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream Top layer

Having felt sufficiently schooled by potato ice cream, I was eager to dig into the almost-pint. The vanilla ice cream base is flecked with golden potato crumbs and carries a light “fried food” smell. I poked around for big chunks of potato fries, but the golden flecks stayed consistently small and well-distributed throughout the container.

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream under top layer

The ice cream base is as rich and creamy as I’ve come to expect from Van Leeuwen’s, enhanced by a toasty malt flavor. (The malt element made me scribble “Where can I buy Whoppers?” on my to-do list — not because the ice cream’s flavor was inadequate, but because I am never satisfied.) Even though the potato pieces aren’t plentiful, a fried taste is subtly present throughout the ice cream.

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream on a spoon

When the potato crumbs do make it onto the spoon, they are soft, yet starchy, just like the inside of a fry. The potato flavor varies in intensity based on how many crumbs are present in a given bite. Texturally, the ice cream mimics the experience of eating the starchy bits that are left behind after dipping several fries into a shake. While effective in delivering flavor, this choice might disappoint anyone who likes more crunchy or chewy elements in their ice cream.

Would I purchase this Walmart-exclusive flavor again? Possibly! Although the taste is unusual for packaged ice cream, it delivers a familiar sweet-and-salty combination in an indulgent base. In this way, Van Leeuwen’s Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries ice cream distinguishes itself from the brand’s more novel offerings that are more “taste adventures” than everyday freezer staples.

That being said, does the product replace the experience of ordering a velvet and frog sticks (that’s diner slang, according to the package!) as you agonize over which jukebox hit deserves your last quarter? Not a chance.

Purchased Price: $4.98
Size: 14 oz
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 2/3 cup): 290 calories, 19 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.