REVIEW: Starbucks Cotton Candy Crème Frappuccino

Starbucks Cotton Candy Cre?me Frappuccino

Do you love food hacks? Do you hate baristas giving you annoyed and/or confused looks? Well, I have got big news for you! Starbucks has released six “new” flavors of its trademarked frozen treat straight from the super secret menu! From June 16th to the 30th, they are asking customers to vote for their favorite – Are you ready for the Frappuccino Flav-Off?!

The new offerings are in celebration of the Frappuccino’s 20th anniversary. Wow, 20 years! To think, in just one year’s time our little Frap will be legally able to mix itself with whiskey! Where does the time go?

At first I thought the ad said Starbucks was turning 20, and it blew my mind for a good half hour. According to Google, there is a Starbucks every 17 square feet on planet Earth. Antarctica has 46 of ‘em. There’s a Starbucks inside of the White House. Malia works there…

But we’re not here to discuss our supreme overlords at the Starbucks Corporation, or my inability to read, we’re here to review just one of the many delicious, refreshing, energizing, expensive Starbucks menu items.

Of all the new choices, the flavor that caught my eye most was Cotton Candy. Besides Lemon Bar, I felt like I could already imagine what the other flavors tasted like – Cinnamon Roll, Caramel Cocoa Cluster, Cupcake, and Red Velvet. Those are more Starbucks’ speed. I had to go with the odd ball of the bunch.

As you can see it’s probably the brightest and most flamboyant drink Starbucks currently offers. If I were them I would market it with the old saying “Pink is the new black.” Is pink still the new black or did orange steal pink’s thunder? To Google I go! … Google told me to go outside.

My first sip definitely put me in mind of classic cotton candy flavor. It reminded me of the cotton candy popsicles I used to buy from the ice cream man as a kid, sans the candy cigarette side dish. Unfortunately, as I sipped on, the cotton candy flavor faded quickly.

According to menu hackers and Starbucks alike, the flavor derives from mixing raspberry and vanilla bean syrup (I watched my barista mix those with half a cup of milk and tons of ice.) While I did definitely taste raspberry, as the ice melted and diluted the flavor, it almost tasted like melted strawberry – not raspberry – ice cream. I would say it was like a weak strawberry shake. It got worse as I went along. I’d say drink it fast, but we all know how that ends.

I did get a cotton candy-ish scent, but the stubborn whipped cream refused to really let it blast through. Actually, on that topic, as with most Frappuccinos, I found myself enjoying the whipped cream as much as the drink itself. It has always been the perfect complement to the frozen mix, and it blended well in this instance. If given the choice, always say yes to whipped cream.

Starbucks Cotton Candy Cre?me Frappuccino 2

The consistency was more Slurpee or Slush Puppy than the usual Frap… but that could be thanks to the glacier my barista added to the blender. It wasn’t as thick as the last Frap I had, and despite ordering the smallest size it still went down pretty heavy – which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I wasn’t really anticipating a meal replacement, but I got one anyway. If you opt for a Grande, Venti, or Trenta, you may not have to eat again.

Just in case you were wondering, I felt I should inform you this Frap has no hint whatsoever of Starbucks’s famous elixir. There is no coffee mixed in. You’re not gonna get your caffeine fix, although the sugar overload will probably make up for it.

So all in all, this is a one-time try. I mentioned earlier that the pink caught my eye and I probably knew how the others tasted, but maybe there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Still, melted strawberry ice cream with a hint of raspberry and vanilla is a pretty good taste profile, and if you’re looking for a change of pace, I guess it can’t hurt to buy it once.

I’m going to be very curious to see how this fares in the Frappuccino Flav-Off. Something tells me it’s going to be a contender, but ultimately lose out.

Back to the secret menu with you, cotton candy.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 fluid ounces – 280 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 42 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, and 0 milligrams of caffeine.)

Item: Starbucks Cotton Candy Crème Frappuccino
Purchased Price: $3.95
Size: 12 oz.
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Cotton Candy flavor (albeit brief). Ice Cream Man memories. Whipped cream. Filling. Vibrant color.
Cons: It’s “Vin” not “Ben.” Ice overload. Maybe too filling. Menu hack confusion. Unemployed Sasha. Cigarettes marketed to kids. “_____ is the new black.”

REVIEW: Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers

Cheez-It and I have been on bad terms lately.

I recently tried their Crunch’d cheese puffs and they were a 3 out of 10 at best. Horrendous. They tasted like cheese flavored Cap’n Crunch. No bueno. It’s time for Cheez-It to win me back.

Sunshine, the maker of Cheez-It, have apparently been getting bombarded with requests for an “extra toasty” flavor of their flagship cracker. Now look, I’m not saying Sunshine is lying about the claim, but I would have never considered “extra toasty” a “flavor.” Maybe I should have.

I realized as I was eating these Cheez-Its that I love toasty and burnt snacks. This notion never dawned on me until that very moment. I love extra dark pretzels. I like that one over-browned Saltine in the sleeve, burnt chocolate chip cookies, and that one extra crispy French fry at the bottom of the bag. I even order my pizza “well done” so the crust is burnt and crispy. The people who were requesting extra toasty Cheez-Its were definitely on to something, and Sunshine delivered.

Extra Toasty Cheez-Its are friggin’ delicious. These are one of the most satisfying salty snacks I’ve had in a long time. In my opinion, they’ve improved on the regular ones in just about every way possible. I’m not positive the difference will blow everyone away, but I don’t see any reason to ever go back to the regular variety. If Cheez-Its were a Hollywood movie, these would be the ever-so-popular dark, gritty reboot of the outdated original that didn’t quite hold up over the years. These extra toasty ones are just flat better. Get with the times.

Cheez-Its always did the cheddar flavor right. It doesn’t overpowering you with the artificial stuff that other brands go overboard with, and these keep that family tradition alive with 100% real cheese. That being said, the “cheez” flavor wasn’t even really the star of the show for me, it was the flakey crunch of the extra toasty cracker itself. Add the perfectly complementing salt element on each piece, and they really hit a home run here. There’s a perfect balance happening. After every bite I wanted to yell “Toastttty” like that random dude who used to pop his head into Mortal Kombat levels…too obscure?

The aftertaste is pleasant as well. The flavor doesn’t dilute at all after you swallow. In fact, that might be a problem to some because it’s addictive, and you’ll want to just keep shoveling more of these down for the crunch factor.

As much as I wanted to give these a perfect ten, there is a bit of a grease factor. These would fall somewhere between Goldfish and potato chips on the grease scale. I noticed the paper plate I was eating off of was almost translucent once I finished.

I guess I should also warn you that the salt was pretty excessive here. That was not even remotely a problem for me, but I could understand it being a turnoff for some.

So, basically, my one complaint about the Extra Toasty Cheez-Its is that I wanted to finish the box in one sitting, but couldn’t thanks to a bit of heartburn. But I probably could have powered through it if I wanted to, so that’s not even a strong complaint.

If I learned one thing from eating these, it’s that “toasty” should absolutely be the new trendy “flavor.” More brands need to embrace this. I want burnt Ritz. Burnt potato and tortilla chips. Burnt Goldfish. Take your recipe and add an addition 5-10 minutes of baking time, slap a new name on the box and you’ve got yourself a sale. I have become a food pyro.

My hat goes off to Cheez-It for changing the cracker game, and for making the decision to put the hyphen in their name after the “Z.” No matter how good these tasted, I would have never bought a snack called “Chee-Zit.”

(Nutrition Facts – 27 crackers – 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.4 oz. box
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Toasty is the new Orange is the New Black. Perfect flavor harmony. Flakey crunch. Crazy addictive. Proper hyphen usage. Fan requests. Mortal Kombat’s “Toasty” guy.
Cons: Greasy. Might need a Tums handy. Food pyros. Cheese flavored Cap’n Crunch.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Tic Tac Minions

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac

While perusing the candy shelf for a breath freshener, there’s one brand I usually tend to avoid – Tic Tac. That is of course until I saw their new – dare I say genius – flavor variety.

Tic Tac and Universal Studios have partnered on a Limited Edition Minion version of their “artificially flavored fruit mints,” and all your favorite Minions are here – Overalls that look like a goatee Minion (aka “Heisenberg Minion,”) Furrowed Brow Minion, Ol’ One Eye, and last but certainly not least, Bob – the eponymous Minion gracing the box.

Who doesn’t like the Minions? I know kids definitely love them. I can imagine every child under three throwing a tantrum after their mother refuses to buy them a box, and it’s all because Tic Tac had the brilliant notion to paint little black faces on each mint.

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac 3

I can sit here and praise this marketing stroke all day, but these are meant to be eaten and not played with, right?

The flavor here is passionfruit, which is disappointing considering the only words I remember the Minions saying in English were “bottom” and “banana.” These should be banana flavored. I expected them to be banana flavored. Why aren’t these banana flavored?!

Sure “banana-mint” doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but does “passionfruit-mint”? These aren’t even minty. I’ve always found Tic Tacs to be very liberal with their usage of the word “mint” when it comes to the fruit varieties.

Like most Tic Tacs, the flavor is great at first, but quickly becomes nearly unappetizing. This is the point I usually just chew them to get it over with. They’re much better when consumed that way. That’s a good trait of the Tic Tac, it’s a softer mint that won’t wreck your teeth.

Fruit Tic Tacs tend to get sour the longer you keep them in your mouth and these continue that trend. The sour hint remains for a good 5-10 minutes after eating them. Tic Tac mint varieties have a similar characteristic. White Peppermint starts with a delicious vanilla taste, then devolving into an easily recognizable artificial mint flavor. I have to imagine I’m not the only one who chews these after a while.

Tic Tac fruit mints as a whole haven’t been all that impressive. Orange stormed on the scene and took the game over, but its successors have never really stacked up. These passionfruit-flavored ones aren’t bad, and for all I know can be 100% authentic to the actual fruit which I’m not sure I’ve ever actually come in contact with. I should seek them out, because I can use a little more passion in my life…but I’ll save that for a different blog.

While I’m discussing Tic Tacs, I’d be remised not to mention their main problem – the packaging. Tic Tacs are a pain in the neck to carry around in your pocket, lest you want people to know you are approaching from four blocks away. What other mint turns you into the Human Maraca? You might as well be that Minion who impersonated the fire truck siren. “Bee-do, bee-do.” See, I saw the movies!

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac 4

So all in all, these aren’t too bad. The idea definitely outweighs the flavor. I can’t get over how simple and brilliant this partnership was. They get bonus points for that alone. When you pair that with a decent flavor, they’re worth dropping a buck on if only as a conversation starter. Don’t forget to use that little indentation on the lid to share with your co-workers – every internet list has informed me that is a “life hack,” because who doesn’t want like one Tic Tac at a time?

Kampai! (Minionese for “Cheers.”)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 mint – 2 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0.5 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of fiber, 0.5 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Tic Tac Minions
Purchased Price: $1.01
Size: 1 oz.
Purchased at: Harmon Discount Drug
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Quite possibly the most impulsive of the buys. Heisenberg Minion. Tasty enough. Genius cross marketing.
Cons: Sour. Tic Tac pocket rattle. “Fruit-mints.” Not banana flavored. Limited Edition. Passionless life. Life-hack lists.

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs

Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs

I won a goldfish from the fair when I was ten. I was so excited holding him in his bag on the drive home. Oh the fun we were gonna have… Then, I realized all he did was swim in circles. About a month later I had to flush him down the toilet. That was basically the same experience as buying and eating Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs.

The instant you tear open the bag, you’re met with no smell. Seriously, there is barely a hint of a scent from these things. I’ve never had a cheese based snack that didn’t have a distinct aroma. These smell like cardboard.

The lack of smell didn’t bother me at first because artificially flavored cheese isn’t exactly my favorite cologne, but then I tasted them and, yeah, we’re just dealing with a bland product here.

The flavor itself reminded me of Wise Cheez Doodles, only with much less flavor. These are the cheese puff equivalent of Fruit Stripe gum. The instant you get hit with the cheese flavor, you lose it. The only other sensation I got was a “corny” aftertaste. Not “corny” like my writing, but “corny” like “I just ate corn.”   

I’ll tell you one flavor I never thought of once while eating these – grilled cheese.   There’s really nothing “grilled cheese” about them. I kinda figured you’d get a nice buttery element with the cheese, but nope. Nada. 

They could have tagged this with any description they wanted and it would have been on par with “Twisted Grilled Cheese.” That name is strictly a marketing ploy. I was really hoping they would have been more in line with the Flavor Blasted Cheddar Goldfish crackers, but alas, they were just weak cheese doodles.

Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs 2

You’re probably wondering where the “twist” comes in. So am I. Each puff has little green sprinkles on them, which I assume are pepper flakes, because there is a small heat element. Very small. This of course is backed up by the fact that neither “pepper” nor anything really relating to “pepper” is listed in the ingredients. So…either way, the heat lingers on your tongue longer than the actual cheese flavor.

It’s not all bad though. The texture is the saving grace – on a scale from “fresh puffed Cheeto” to “stale Cap’n Crunch cereal piece,” it definitely lands closer to the former.  There is a nice light crisp to each bite, but in time, I could feel them shredding the roof of my mouth.

And ya know why? Because I’m still eating them as I type. Here I am, talking about how boring these Goldfish are, yet they’re going down like water…which is ironic because I think Pepperidge Farm’s main reason for shaping their crackers like fish was due to the fact they pair so well with water. I’ve never eaten any variety of Goldfish without chugging a bottle of H2O due to excessive salt dehydration. These are certainly no different. Salt city.

Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs 3

Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs are probably the worst Goldfish product I’ve ever had. Not to go all superficial on you guys, but they aren’t even as cute as regular goldfish. They’re fatter and more squished in appearance. There’s a certain sadness hidden behind each of those smiles. Although to be fair to Twisted Grilled Cheese, the original Cheddar sets an unrealistic standard for Goldfish alike. Real Goldfish have curves.

So, in conclusion, are these better than most puffed cheese snacks? No. Are they better than regular cheddar Goldfish crackers? Not even close.

There are so many cheesy alternatives in the supermarket, there’s almost no reason to buy these unless you are a Goldfish completist. Still, I can’t give them a super low score because of their inherent eatability – which I’m being told is not a word. Tomato, tuh-ma-toe.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.1 oz – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, .5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Light and crisp. Addicting. Snack smiles back. Catchy advertising jingles of yore.
Cons: Bland. Salty. Mouth roof rippers. False grilled cheese advertising. Weakest twist since M. Night’s most recent flick.

REVIEW: Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream

Haagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream

I just want to preface this review by telling you that I pronounce the word “pea-can,” and not the snooty, actual pronunciation “puh-con.” I’d be totally misrepresenting myself if I didn’t let you know that up front. Clearly, I’m not very cultured, so the idea of trying this new fancy pants ice cream flavor intrigues me…and kinda scares me.

Let’s be real, despite Magnum’s best attempts, Häagen-Dazs is our most pretentious ice cream brand. What with their “look at me” umlaut and their “look at me again” hyphen. Their name doesn’t even translate to anything, it just sounds Danish and important. Now they’re adding everyone’s favorite buzzword “Artisan” to the mix? We’re talking “high-quality ingredients handmade by a worker in a skilled trade” here people.

Enter Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream.

Haagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream Topless

The base ice cream looks, smells and tastes like any run of the mill chocolate ice cream you’re used to, so don’t get your hopes up there. The revelation you’re looking for comes in the form of the featured chocolate, caramel, and pecan clusters. This is where you leave boring ol’ chocolate ice cream behind, and enter a new world of perfectly textured spicy bites.

Unlike some ice creams riddled with molar threatening chunks, the outer chocolate coating of each cluster acts as a barrier to somehow keep the inner pecan soft and fresh. This was a welcome surprise and easily the best part of the ice cream for me. Size and appearance wise, they reminded me a lot of Buncha Crunch, just without a bunch of crunch. A crunch would actually ruin the experience.

The clusters are also where spice flavor really pops. Said flavor is inspired by Christopher Elbow’s artisanal chocolate – fannnn-cy! Apparently Mr. Elbow is very famous for peculiar chocolate creations and not his curveball as his name would suggest. 

Haagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream Closeup

Turtles are an underrated flavor combination in my opinion (and an underrated animal for that matter) but I’m not sure they needed a “spice” element. The spice itself does have a little kick to it, which is an odd sensation to taste in an ice cream. The aftertaste lingers in the back of your mouth after you chomp down on the clusters, and I wasn’t a fan.  I got the hint of caramel, but only for a second before that weird heat took over. I guess “sweet and spicy” is trying to sneak its way into the niche market “sweet and salty” has recently carved out. I think it’s gonna have a harder time catching on.

Even after looking at all the ingredients, I’m not positive what this mystery “spice” is.  It could be cinnamon? Maybe ginger? This ice cream does taste a little “gingerbready” if you will. Will you? I know you won’t.

Well then, let me do my due diligence and research Christopher Elbow a little more because this will bother me all day. After some digging, the spice(s) appears to be…ancho and chipotle peppers with some cinnamon to boot. Well there it is, with the inclusion of “chipotle” we’ve hit max buzzword capacity. That explains the heat element. Here’s your chance to have peppers in your ice cream. Color me intrigued.

So is this worth trying? I’m gonna go ahead and say sure, give it a shot. While it’s basically just a strange spin on regular chocolate ice cream, it’s unique enough to try for yourself. Will I ever buy it again? Probably not, but I’m not mad that I did. If nothing else, I felt important while I held this pint of Häagen-Dazs. You shoulda seen the look the cute checkout girl gave me when I told her I only eat the finest artisanal ice creams. It was somewhere between “Who cares” and “Security!”

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 310 calories, 19 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 24 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein, 8% vitamin A, 0% calcium, and 8% iron.)

Item: Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Spiced Pecan Turtle Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $3.49 (on sale)
Size: 14 oz.
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Unique flavor. Umlauts. Artisanal snacking. Fancy pants. Boring ol’ chocolate ice cream. Cute checkout girl. I like turtles.
(Puh-)Cons: Utter spice confusion. Christopher Elbow squandering his name. Odd aftertaste. Boring ol’ chocolate ice cream.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Impulsive Buy Reviewer Vin

Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Hov’.

Ah jeez, sorry about that. I’m using speech-to-text to write this bio and it just picked up the Jay-Z song I was listening to.

My name is actually Vin. Vincent, if you’re my mother. Vince, if you’re my old baseball coaches. Vinny, if you’re everyone else, despite me never once introducing myself that way. You guys can call me whatever you like, just try to keep it PG…and don’t call me Vinny.

I grew up in the NY/NJ/Conneticut Tri-state area, which as we all know, is a hotbed for great culinary…things. I have a way with words as you’ll soon find out. I was born in Brooklyn, and relocated to the Jersey Shore where I’ve remained ever since. Throw all your preconceived notions out the door; the Jersey Shore is everything like the show of the same name.

While I’ve been frequenting the East Coast’s…nay, the country’s best delis and pizza places since I was a baby, I appreciate all foods equally. I’ll get a deluxe Italian at New York’s top delicatessen, then hit Subway for a cardboard and shredded lettuce footlong on the drive home. I can eat a slice of pepperoni at a place called Nunzio’s then turn around and slam an entire thin crust from Domino’s without so much as a peep. Hell, I’ll even eat a Peep, and those things are made of memory foam and sand.

I absolutely love to cook. I also absolutely love to lie. Store bought, processed foods are my everything. I anticipate the release of new Doritos flavors like expectant parents anticipate their first born. A nutritionist once saw my cart at the supermarket and ran out of the place in hysterics. She hasn’t been seen since. Come home Carolyn, your family misses you.

But, seriously, I love to write, and I love to eat. I have an impeccable palate and my taste buds are insured for $2 million by Lloyd’s of London, so you can trust my reviews. I promise to try my best and steer you in the right direction when it comes to what snack impulses to respond to.