REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar

I am convinced the LTO product mastermind(s) at Trader Joe’s is Willy Wonka. That’s the only way I can explain the Chocolate Commendation Bar. Like Trader Joe’s current name variations, like Trader Giotto’s, I’m going to call these masterminds Trader Insane-But-Fan-Effing-Tastic’s.

Okay, maybe Wonka Joe’s has a better ring to it.

While most food companies are focused on smaller portions, Wonka Joe’s decided to flip the script for the holidays and make their existing one-pound bar over 300 percent larger. Why not 100 percent or 200 percent? Because Wonka Joe’s knows that in ‘MURICA, you go big or you go home. After all, “a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar 2

At a solid 4 pounds 6.4 ounces, the Commendation Bar sounds more like something on a birth certificate, than a shelf. Apparently Wonka Joe’s considered naming this chocolate baby Super Size Chocolate Bars, Wicked Lahge Chocolate Bahs, or You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me With The Size of These Things Chocolate Bars, but ended up with Commendation Bar because it was worth celebrating. WTF? That’s like picking out names like Apple, Khaleesi, or Sparrow, but going with James.

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Name nuances aside, here are my creds for tackling this four-pound beast: the one-pound chocolate bars are a staple on my shopping list. One time when I was purchasing said chocolate bar, the cashier asked if I was going to eat it all by myself. I looked at him indignantly, said “yes, of course,” and proceeded to go home to eat it all in one sitting. So, you can only imagine what the cashier was thinking this time with a four-pound chocolate bar. And, you can probably imagine that I thought I could tackle this bar in one sitting. Boy, was I wrong.

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I picked the dark chocolate bar (61 percent cacao) over the milk chocolate (31 percent cacao) because I don’t like my chocolate too sweet. My typical one-pound bar of choice is the dark chocolate with almonds so I stayed in the dark chocolate family.

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Opening the bar was like Christmas morning. The bar had 32 perfect rectangles with 11 vertical lines going through each, all wrapped up in silver foil. Given the amount of one-pound bars I consume, I consider myself pretty good at breaking off rows of chocolate but it took me forever to break off a single row on this one. I even smacked the bar on the floor a couple of times and it only dented the surface. A single rectangle was the size of my palm – at least this Commendation Bar is a really good value!

As indicated by the difficulty of breaking the chocolate, it was really hard to eat. I had to angle it sideways and bite like an Olympian biting a gold medal with their molars. Taste-wise, it was just like the one-pound dark chocolate bar – smooth with a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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One rectangle down, 31 more rectangles to go. I began thinking that instead of a commendation, it was condemnation like the infamous chocolate fudge cake scene in the movie Maltida. I was Bruce Bogtrotter gnawing away at the chocolate bar with my molars. Trunchbull? My own gluttony.

Unlike Bruce, I couldn’t finish the entire bar. I shamefully only finished a single row or four rectangles. Yikes, at this rate, I’ll be eating this bar until next December. Overall, I am impressed that Wonka Joe’s nails quality and quantity.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 square – 330 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 490 milligrams of Potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $14.99
Size: 70.5 oz. bar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Willy Wonka (aka Trader Joe’s LTO product mastermind(s)) had to have been behind this. Good value. Smooth with a perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Nails quality and quantity.
Cons: Really hard to break off – smacking the bar on the floor risks cracking your floors and not the bar itself. Secretly a condemnation bar if you try to eat the whole thing in one sitting.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich

Wendy's Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich

Jack and Wendy went to the levee to fetch a pail of water in preparation for her new spicy innovations. Jack fell down and broke his crown because Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich blew away his expectations.

That’s how the nursery rhyme should be updated because Wendy’s take on sriracha is impressive. My complaint with most fast food “spicy chicken” is that it’s never actually spicy. Wendy’s takes the pedal to the medal – quite possibly in a Lexus Sriracha IS – and delivers. It’ll make any O.G. Huy Fong Sriracha fan tear up.

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They say you eat with your eyes first and Wendy’s nailed it with the vibrant but non-off-putting colors – the orange/red palette with the sriracha-infused bun, golden chicken breast, red onion, fresh green spring mix in a bright red box was working for me. Maybe there was some food psychology at work there.

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I was also impressed by the size and poundage of the sandwich. Wendy’s didn’t skimp on the ingredients. There was a large piece of breaded chicken overflowing from the bun, a solid layer of spring mix and an appropriate amount of bacon.

The first thing I did was taste-test the bacon because soggy and stringy bacon can ruin a sandwich. Crispy? Check! The thick-cut bacon was a thing of beauty. I then proceeded to devour the sandwich. The breading itself was already a little bit spicy so I was enjoying the heat. On my third bite, I got to the sriracha aioli in all its glory and boy was it packing heat! As a balance to all the heat on heat on heat, I appreciated the red onion. It not only added a brightness to the sandwich – visually and taste-wise – but it also added a pleasant textural crunch.

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About half way through, my nose started to run a little bit from the heat; the sriracha taste bud onslaught was in full force. Each sniffle exponentially increased my love for this sandwich. I loved the “afterglow” as well; my mouth had a pleasant spicy tingle after each bite. Related to the hefty size and poundage, every bite had the perfect ratio of chicken, spring mix, red onion, sriracha aioli, and bacon.

If I had to nitpick, I couldn’t taste the sriracha jack cheese at all. It was completely overpowered by the spice in the chicken breading as well as the sriracha aioli. I also don’t think the sriracha-infused bun added anything. It was a soft bun, but nothing about it seemed sriracha-infused because there was no heat to it. Also, the more I stared at the orange-colored bun, the odder I thought an orange-colored bun was.

Regardless, I didn’t mean to eat the entire thing but I did because it was so dang good.

(Nutrition Facts – 670 calories, 35 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 1690 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 39 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.39
Size: N/A
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Wendy’s packs heat and makes any O.G. Huy Fong Sriracha fan proud! Crispy thick-cut bacon is a thing of beauty. Red onion works well. Pleasant spicy tingle after each bite.
Cons: Sriracha jack cheese and sriracha-infused bun didn’t really taste like anything.

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Limited Batch Confetti Cake Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's Limited Batch Confetti Cake Ice Cream

I decided that it was only fitting to celebrate my birthday early with Ben & Jerry’s Confetti Cake Ice Cream especially since one of my favorite things in the world is Yellow Confetti Cake a la Pillsbury – with all the confetti frosting and confetti fixin’s, of course!

When I peeled off the lid, there was something about the brightly-colored Fruity Pebble-colored confetti that made me real giddy. After taking only a couple of seconds to admire its beauty, I dug in immediately. I was very satisfied by the ice cream’s scoopability. There’s nothing more annoying than having to chip away at ice cream that has frozen over like an ice block, but Ben & Jerry’s usually never does wrong in this department.

Unfortunately and fortunately, the Confetti Cake Ice Cream tasted more like a crappy supermarket confetti cupcake. You know the ones that I’m talking about – the 12-pack of cupcakes in clear packaging located in the bakery section next to the equally crappy sugar cookies. I use the word “crappy” in an endearing way because there’s something I love about them; maybe it’s the nostalgia factor of eating one too many in elementary school.

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The ice cream reminded me of supermarket cupcakes for two reasons. First, it tasted overwhelmingly like vanilla confetti frosting. Like your first bite into a supermarket cupcake, you usually just get a mouthful of frosting because the ratio of frosting to cupcake is way off. Second, because you’re basically eating straight frosting, there’s a greasy mouthfeel that accompanies your first bite. I was quite bewildered at how I was picking up that greasy, rich feel. Was it just in my head? How the heck does Ben & Jerry’s do that with ice cream?

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As I continued to carve confetti caverns into the pint, I felt underwhelmed by the cake pieces. I could barely taste them through the vanilla confetti frosting taste. Also, it didn’t seem to add anything to the overall texture because the confetti bits themselves already added a slight crunch.

I will say that adult-me prefers eating Ben & Jerry’s Confetti Cake Ice Cream over supermarket cupcakes. Seems like a win – I get all the nostalgia without having to eat an actual crappy cupcake. But, I think a touch of yellow cake would help to break up the vanilla frosting monotony – think cake batter and confetti cake having an ice cream baby. I ended my early birthday celebration with a confetti-cake-frosting-flavored burp. Shout out to my fellow November babies!

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 280 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 9 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 60 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 24 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, 8% vitamin A, and 10% calcium.)

Purchased Price: $4.28
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Imitation is the finest form of flattery – all the crappy supermarket confetti cupcake taste without having to actually eat a crappy cupcake. Great scoopability.
Cons: Tastes exactly like crappy supermarket confetti cupcakes. Cake pieces were gratuitous. Yellow Cake > Vanilla Cake.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Triscuit Pumpkin & Spice Crackers

Limited Edition Triscuit Pumpkin & Spice Crackers

Call me basic, but I am all about the pumpkin spice craze. However, when I first heard about Triscuit’s attempt to sit at the pumpkin spice table, I was completely taken aback by Pumpkin & Spice. Please carefully note that strategically placed ampersand, you hipsters.

As I was opening the box, I was wondering to myself what Pumpkin & Spice even meant. Is it sweet? Spicy? Savory? I had no idea what to expect so I was imagining worst case scenarios of it tasting like a Yankee Candle or overzealous holiday potpourri.

I was disappointed that the box smelled mainly like cardboard with a hint of nutmeg & cinnamon (see what I did there with the ampersand?). In case you ever want to season your cardboard, nutmeg & cinnamon really complements the smell of cardboard! The crackers themselves just looked like a regular Triscuit in all its beautiful whole grain glory that could’ve been woven by Rumpelstiltskin himself.

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The first bite was a subtle brown sugar, cinnamon-y crunch. After a few more crunches, it just tasted like a regular Triscuit. To test for flavor consistency, I continued eating. Half a box later (whoops!), I concluded that it was just a regular Triscuit with a dusting of pumpkin spice and sugar. Meh. It wasn’t offensive, but not as tasty as regular Triscuit (my record is a whole box in under 15 minutes.) Plus, because it’s so subtle, it was like the sweetness started to become less and less noticeable the more I ate.

Triscuit is always pushing itself as an appetizer to be topped with garnishes, so I had to try it. The box’s “3 steps to Delicious” panel comprises of gouda cheese, cranberry sauce and sage leaves but ain’t nobody got time for that! I slapped some cheddar cheese on it because cheddar’s mildness works with everything…except Pumpkin & Spice. While the sweetness is subtle as previously mentioned, I just couldn’t get past the sugary notes. Triscuit are supposed to be savory!

If you stuck these with these a batch of regular Triscuit at a party, no one would be able to tell the difference. People would probably just assume the sweetness came from cross-contamination from neighboring appetizers. As a result of its lackluster attempt, Pumpkin & Spice definitely doesn’t get to sit at the pumpkin spice table. Back to the kids’ table with Pumpkin Spice Twinkies and Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies, Triscuit!

(Nutrition Facts – 6 crackers – 120 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 9 oz box
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Didn’t taste like a candle or holiday potpourri! Same Triscuit texture and addictiveness.
Cons: Weak attempt to cash in on the pumpkin spice craze. Triscuit are supposed to be savory!

REVIEW: Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts

Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts

Anyone else feel like their teeth are going to fall out when they eat a caramel apple?

The hardened caramel should seriously be considered on the list of dental no-no’s right up there next to chewing ice (I’m guilty). So, for the most part, I avoid caramel apples. But, Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts bring all the joy of Caramel Apples but in toaster pastry form.

Sort of.

Out of the trusty shiny packaging, a corner of the pale toaster pastry tumbled out typical Pop-Tart crumbliness. No immediate artificial/pungent odor tumbled out with the crumble though, which is always a good sign! I took a closer nose-pection of the goods. It smelled just like Tootsie’s Caramel Apple Pops.

Luckily, I have a pretty positive association with Apple Pops but it’s a little odd that a toast pastry smells like a candy. The Pop-Tart itself looks like a regular Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart but with a neon green squiggle down the middle and neon is never a good color for food.

For a Pop-Tart, the flavor progression is surprisingly complex. The first bite was all apple flavoring. Think Hostess Apple Fruit Pie but with a better crust to filling ratio (aka the filling isn’t gooping everywhere). The apple flavoring was followed by a warm maple, caramel sweetness. This pushed it over the edge of sweetness for me, but right at that point a sour apple tartness emerged.

Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts 3

After the first couple of bites, I looked more closely at the filling. It looked like half & half filling with a darker half and a lighter half so I tried each half as separately as I could. The lighter half was the apple part of the filling and tasted pretty standard. The darker half contributed the warmer maple, caramel flavor as well as the tartness. Kellogg’s R&D definitely tried to go above and beyond for this one.

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Somewhat dissatisfied, I put these babies in the toaster oven for a quick toast. After warming it up, I found it odd that the edges weren’t a more golden brown color like other warmed pop-tarts. Typically, Pop-Tarts taste best warm, but not this flavor. While the apple, maple and tartness meshed a little better together, the sour apple after-taste became even more prominent and made it taste even more like the lollipop candy.

These should be renamed Caramel Apple Pops Pop-Tarts. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Kellogg’s did not bring this Limited Edition flavor back. Long live Pumpkin!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pastry – 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 180 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12 pastries/box
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: R&D put in work – tried to replicate a Caramel Apple as closely as possible.
Cons: Tastes just like Caramel Apple Tootsie Pops. Too sweet. Why doesn’t it toast?!