Monday, March 31, 2008
As the weather gets warmer, I stop wearing socks and start thinking about cute open-toed shoes.
But I was really taken by this little Candie’s(r) Short Trench Coat.
I’m not sure if I could carry off the yellow (they call it Banana Yellow), but I like the fact that it’s cotton and machine washable.
It’s marked down from $58 to $37.70. (It says imported, but doesn’t say where it’s imported from.)
I’d have to take a look at it in person to see if it was really as soft and comfy as I’d hope it to be.
I do know that I don’t like the new shorts they’re showing. (That everyone is showing.) Either make them capris or make them shorts, it’s not some sort of fashion innovation to split the difference.
Yeah, there is no way I could pull that outfit off. (Come to think of it, nor would I want to.)
Now, this, this is more my style. The shoes are even on sale.
UPDATE 6:00 PM: Yes, it was an April Fool’s joke. It was all my brother’s idea. (You can see how it looked here.)
The regular edible candy reviews will resume tomorrow.
Amber, a dear reader from Toronto, came to Los Angeles over Easter weekend and was kind enough to run around to three stores before leaving Canada in search of a list o’ candies from the Great White North. Her timing couldn’t have been better for this one, the Cadbury Popping Mini Eggs which are pretty much what the name implies.
They’re Cadbury Mini Eggs (a creamy milk chocolate egg with a crunchy shell) with a little bit of carbonated candy thrown in.
They look just like their non-bubbly counterparts, except they don’t have the little speckles on them. They come in all the standard eraser colors: white, yellow, pink and turquoise.
I have to say that the bag is teensy and contains a rather small amount: 32 grams (1.13 ounces). The standard Canadian single serve bags are 39 grams. I guess instead of charging more for that special ingredient they just give you less.
Where the Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar had an odd texture because of the addition of Pop Rocks, these don’t have that jarring granularity, because we’re already accustomed to the crunchy bits of the shell.
After chewing a few times the chocolate melts away, it’s sweet, creamy and a little malty ... then the popping starts. It’s not a lot of popping, not as much as the Pop Rocks bar, but still a nice experience.
The regular packaging is purple, this is yellow, so it’s hard to mistake one for the other on the shelves. And once you pop it in your mouth, well, it’s the same sort of shocking difference.
I thought these were a bit of a novelty item, but I like it. I wouldn’t want to have a huge 11 ounce bag of them, but a little handful brought a smile to my face.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I know nothing about this bar except what is in front of me: Limited Edition Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar.
I got it directly from the Mars company, but no press materials. So all I have to go by is what’s on the wrapper and of course what’s inside that chocolate enrobing.
The package says: Almonds, Caramel and Marshmallow-Flavored Nougat wrapped in Dark Chocolate.
I was kind of dubious. I wasn’t fond of the Hershey’s S’Mores bar ... but that’s S’Mores, this is Rocky Road, which has the addition of nuts and the subtraction of graham crackers.
Like all the limited edition Snickers bars, this is smaller than the regular, clocking in at 1.83 ounces instead of 2.07 for the original. I’m okay with the slight of .24 ounces, it’s a satisfying bar, it says so right on the back.
It smells lightly of vanilla and dark toasted nuts with a touch of chocolate. The chocolate shell is decent, and sets off the sweet innards well. The caramel has a good mix of almond pieces in it, they’re all fresh and crunchy and much more noticeable than those in the Snickers Almond. The nougat though is where this bar really differs from all others I’ve tried. It’s not the grainy fluffed nougat that ends up in Milky Way and 3 Musketeers. Instead this is like a dense marshmallow. Smooth and not too sweet, a little stringy like the caramel.
It’s a completely different texture experience with this smoother “marshmallow flavored nougat”, kind of like real European-style nougats. (The ingredients list says egg whites, there is no gelatin in here like marshmallows have, so this is still vegetarian-safe ... and probably a nice option for vegetarians who miss marshmallows.)
Perhaps it’s because I have a bounty of these bars and have eaten at least five for this review (instead of the usual 1 or 2 for most reviews), it’s grown on me quite a bit. Dark chocolate was a good choice, it keeps it all from feeling heavy and sticky. Brian also liked them, but also stopped short of love (and I agree, regular Snickers is still the best.)
Still, I can’t tell you where you can find them or when they’ll be available. (Except, of course, from me if you read on.)
Here’s a special peek into the life of a candy blogger.
On February 27th I got an email from someone at Mars, thanking me for my positive review on the Twix Java and offering, “I will be happy to send you samples of new products as they become available.” (Emphasis mine.) She also mentioned that Mars has launched a new direct buy store, where you can pick up boxes of their candies, including the hard to find Munch and Snickers Dark. Instead of being more expensive than regular stores (like the M&Ms online store - $5.99 for 7 ounces of green M&Ms?) it’s about $.68 cents a bar.
Well, I’ve been looking for an “in” with Mars for quite a while, as I’d love to know about the new releases and get them in advance of release (it’s pretty frustrating to have people ask about something they found in the store, and I can’t find it in any stores near me and no where to order it on the web). I do get some notice from PR folks, but it’s not always consistent.
I replied with my address and reminded her that there is no need for thanks for any reviews, “I just call them like I taste them.” (And it’s not like I’ve raved about everything Mars has ever made, but in general I like their products and usually turn down offers for items I don’t think I’d like.)
Then on March 5th I came home from work and found this in my kitchen. Perhaps I don’t understand the term “samples” but even in the world of generous interpretations a single box of 24 bars would be an ample sample. A full case of the bars? (Yes, that’s 12 boxes of Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bars with 24 bars each = 288 bars.)
Plus a case of Twix Java! (360 bars.) And another more responsible box of 24 packages of Starbust GummiBurst (goo filled gummis) and another box of 24 Snickers Charged.
I wrote back to Mars, thanking them for their generosity, but gently nudging that I really don’t know what to do with all that candy (seriously, almost 700 portions!). She responded, “Share with your friends ”
So here I am, with oodles of candy. I’ve given away quite a bit, boxes to the office, a couple for raffle prizes for the American Cetacean Society, three to a neighbor to take to work.
It’s drawing time.
I’m offering a box of candy bars (your choice: Twix Java with 36 bars or this new Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar with 24 bars - you can tell me which you want if you win). There will be two lucky winners of this drawing. The rules are as follows:
And there you have it, dear readers. With great candy comes great responsibility.
UPDATE 3/30/2008: Since this post has now been linked a couple of places (I kind of thought it was a treat for regular readers), I’m going to award three prize boxes instead of two if the entries reach 500. Just to keep the odds similar. (So if the deadline is coming and we haven’t hit it yet, tell your friends!) Thanks to everyone new who’s stopped by, I hope you keep reading!
UPDATE 4/9/2008: Thanks to everyone who entered. I drew three winners: Elise, Stijn & Donna ... two picked the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bars and one chose the Twix Java. They’re all in the mail on their way to their recipients! To everyone else who is interested in trying the bars, they’ll be available starting in July 2008 according to Mars. Comments are open again.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
They turned up at Walgreens, and on sale to boot (well, it was strange sale where they’d charge $2.99 a bag to mortals off the street, but someone with a coupon could get 3 for the price of 2 or something like that, but I was charged $1.59 after I gave them my best, “I don’t understand, the tag on the shelf says they’re a dollar each, but I don’t want to buy three.” and then they tried to explain it and I just kind of kept sweetly repeating that I should be able to just buy one and still get a sale price, even if it’s not the super-low price. Finally they just put a key in the register and that’s what I paid).
Each of these ropes is just shy of an ounce (.988 ounces), so it’s a satisfying portion and about 100 calories to boot.
They’re very soft, sometimes so soft that it’s hard to pull apart the ropes without breaking off pieces.
They’re fun to twist and roll, even tie in knots or probably do macrame. (I should have photographed the little scarf I made for a Peeps Bunny.)
And the taste? Well, it’s definitely a spicy cinnamon. It smells like Red Hots and has both a sweet flavor, a bit of a tangy bite and then after chewing for a bit, a low and pleasant cinnamon burn.
I don’t know what’s taken Twizzlers so long to make a really good cinnamon twist like this, but I’m glad they did. For those minding their calories, you may enjoy the interactivity and the low caloric density and overall satisfaction of the candy. I’m not sure when they’ll come out with these in single serving packages, but they should.
For some bizarro reason, these aren’t listed on the Hershey’s website even though they’ve been on shelves for at least three months.
These are made with a corn syrup and wheat base, so they’re not suitable for those who cannot have gluten.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Here are some new candies that will be hitting store shelves soon:
Name: Jones Carbonated Sours
Name: Revved-Up Cinnamon Mentos
Name: Wiley Wallaby Australian-style Licorice
Name:Ritter Sport Peppermint
(images courtesy of the respective manufacturers)
Though I admit freely that I take samples from candy companies (always fully disclosed to you, dear readers), the new Starbucks chocolates line was one of the rare times when I actually asked for a tasting kit when the press release arrived via email. (Usually companies specifically offer to send me something, about half the time I say yes.) I actually had to ask twice, as the first person never actually sent it. (Or my UPS guy is wise to the contents of the packages delivered to my house.)
The biggest reason for asking was because I knew that this tasting kit existed and the idea of going out and buying 7 different boxes at over $5 each was kind of prohibitive, even for someone who has a line item in her personal budget for candy.
There are lots of chocolate bars out there that feature coffee and tea combinations (Joanie’s Smiles, Dagoba, Dolfin, Theo, to name a few). So whatever Starbucks was going to come up with should be distinctive. What they have going that that most others don’t is a line of “truffles”. Each comes in a single flavor box (4.2 ounces) and retails for $4.99 to $5.49. I saw them at Target yesterday for $5.29.
The smelled of freshly ground coffee even before taking a bite. The dark shell is shiny and has a decent snap to it.
Where I didn’t care for the inclusion of the crushed coffee beans in the chocolate tasting squares, this truffle just goes for flavor and texture.
It’s a very dark mix of flavors, much stronger on the coffee than the chocolate side of things and with just a hint of acidity and bitterness.
I tried eating these truffles blind at first, just having one in the car without looking at the wrapper.
I thought this one tasted like fudge. Nice fudge, but plain old chocolate fudge. The ganache center was smooth, but still not a decadent buttery melt that I’d associate with something called “truffle.” I really wasn’t getting the mocha vibe here.
Then I felt really full and even though I was in the car for another half hour I didn’t feel like eating any additional truffles. Basically, this was my least favorite of the four ... not bad and I’d probably be happy with it in a mix of truffles, but pretty unhappy if I’d bought a whole box.
Oops, I photographed this one up-side-down. It’s supposed to look like a little teacup.
The center is a mild and buttery ganache with a strong chai scent and flavor to it with a slight grain. The flavor notes, like the tasting square of the chocolate, omit the clove that’s so commonly the loudest part of chai and instead focuses here on cardamom & ginger and perhaps only the lightest hint of cinnamon & black pepper. I like the combo very much, I think it goes well with the milk chocolate. (But YumSugar didn’t like that at all, she thought it was missing its essential chai-ness).
I’ve never had a Tazo Chai, as Starbucks won’t serve it unsweetened, so I can’t say how this flavor profile compares for fans of that drink.
It’s definitely a strong dose of vanilla here. It was easy to smell those bourbon vanilla notes even before cracking the shell in my teeth.
The white ganache has little flecks of vanilla in it and a mildly sweet flavor. The dark chocolate shell balances it all very well, a little bitter, a little bit of a dry finish.
It goes very well with coffee.
I loved the little wrappers. They have cute little icon designs on them that kind of reflect the flavors inside and an extra foil wrap around the chocolate itself for extra protection.
They should sell a mixed box of these. Heck, they should sell the sample box I got as a gift selection. (It probably doesn’t need the full 3 ounce bars in it though, since the tasting squares are pretty much the same thing. I haven’t opened those yet as I wanted to get through the truffles first. I’m planning a head-to-head with Choxie 3 ounce bars.)
Basically, the Chai and Vanilla are the two that I’d be most likely to buy, but I don’t know if I’d want a whole box ... I’d like a mix like the Tasting Squares are offered. There’s a fifth flavor as well, a Macchiatto, but that’s not sold via retail outlets at this time.
What I’d probably be most likely to do is buy one or two to have with my coffee while sitting at the Barnes & Noble ... except that’s not really the kind of life I have where I sit around in bookstores. And I don’t go into Starbucks very often, there really aren’t that many in my area that are more convenient that the indies and I’m kinda cheap and just as likely to stop at the 7-11 or McDonalds if we’re talking chains. But maybe the enticement of a little $1.00 piece of chocolate would make me stop and relax.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I was at the bulk candy shop at the mall last month and saw what looked like a new mix of Runts in the bins. Curious, I bought a little sampling of them. I thought they were Tropical Runts (which used to exist).
Instead, I found out that they’d reformulated the Runts flavors yet again.
The new assortment includes: Strawberry, Banana, Orange, Pineapple and Mango.
The previous version had: Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, Cherry, Strawberry, Banana and Orange.
The version before that, that I remember best was what they introduced in 1982: Banana, Orange, Cherry, Strawberry, and Lime. It was the best replacement for Wacky Wafers.
Back when they were that first assortment of flavors I bought them quite a bit. They were cute, they didn’t roll around when you sorted them out and the flavors were nice ... only one in the mix I didn’t like, which were good odds as far as I was concerned.
But when they went to the 21st century flavors, I lost interest completely. I didn’t like watermelon or blue raspberry or cherry ... so half the box was thrown out or given away.
This new version though, we’re back to 80% efficiency!
The Banana is quite artificial. It reminds me of Circus Peanuts and nail polish remover. Strawberry is sweet and flowery. Orange is bland and tastes like Tang or Jell-O mix. (That’s not a bad thing.)
The new Pineapple is awesome. It’s tangy, it’s fragrant, it’s a real hit. The Mango surprised me because I didn’t like it. I love mangos, I have a serious mango addiction when they’re in season (I’ll buy a half a dozen when they’re on sale and eat them in a weekend). But mango flavor is kind of like peach, it’s just not quite the same. It takes like pine needles and fake peaches to me.
A complaint I’ve heard about the new mix is that it’s no longer as colorful as it used to be. There are two yellows in there, no more blue or green. (Honestly, the Mango could have been green ... or even the Pineapple.) But I still find them very pleasant and are now back on my list of candies that I pick up every once in a while.
Wonka has always had the best names for their candies. Discontinued ones (that some will remember fondly): Wacky Wafers, Punkys, Oompa Loompas and Dweebs. Their current lineup still includes: Bottlecaps, Everlasting Gobstoppers (well, Roald Dahl came up with that one), Laffy Taffy (formerly Tangy Taffy) and of course all of the items swallowed up from Sunline like SweeTarts & Pixy Stix.
The new flavor set is Green Apple, Banana, Orange, Grape and Strawberry.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I rarely go into a Starbucks, but I do drink their coffee at the office sometimes. I think my favorite blend of theirs is the Estima (which they don’t make available for our office, drat). At home I’m more likely to drink Trader Joe’s but I’m not a coffee snob, I’ll buy coffee at 7-11, McDonald’s, happily drink the stuff on an airplane and of course at many of the local coffee houses in Los Angeles.
I’m not a “coffee drink” person. I just like a cup of coffee with some milk in it for the most part, but I’ll drink a capuccino now and then. I think coffee is a flavor that’s good enough to be savored by itself. No need for caramel, hazelnut syrup or other intrusions of flavors. (I do drink Mexican Mochas in November.)
I was still eager to try the new line of Starbucks Chocolates and happily accept the offer from some PR folks for a tasting kit (shown here, which is not available for retail sale).
I am kind of picky about my coffee and chocolate combinations though. I like my chocolate smooth, and I don’t usually want to eat my coffee beans. (I had a seriously dangerous chocolate covered coffee bean problem in college that led to an EKG and some stern words from a doctor about moderation.)
So I greeted the new Starbucks and Hershey’s chocolate venture with a little trepidation, mostly worried that both would bring the worst they had to offer to the products (Starbucks high prices and Hershey’s inflated prices for substandard quality or playing off the cachet of their Artisan Confection lines Dagoba & Scharffen Berger without delivering).
Their new product line consists of chocolate bars and tasting squares. There is the standard dark and milk plus two infused with tea flavors (Passion Fruit and Chai) and then a Mocha dark chocolate and a Citron dark chocolate. As expected they also have chocolate covered coffee beans (in milk chocolate) and a line of four different kinds of truffle-style bonbons.
The venture between Starbucks & Hershey’s is a strange one. Starbucks makes the sourcing of their coffee beans part of their marketing effort, with a pledge that they pay above market rates to the growers. It’s not quite fair trade (though they do have the Estima blend that is certified fair trade), it has certainly raised awareness of the issue of growers of our non-essential items like coffee and now chocolate. In this case the package makes note:
It’s unclear from that webpage if the chocolate in the Starbucks branded chocolate products was obtained within these principals or not. The package (on the other side) says “Manufactured for Artisan Confections Company Berkeley, CA 94710 USA under the authority of Starbucks Coffee Company”. (Emphasis mine) I’m still not sure who made these products. (Clay Gordon tried to get more info on this subject, but was unable, but I agree that the couldn’t be made at the Scharffen Berger space in Emeryville and I’m more inclined to believe they were made by the Dagoba folks.)
The good thing is that the risk with these is low for the consumer. They’re all well priced items, none more than $5.49 and available at local drug stores and discount chains. (I already spotted the full line at RiteAid.)
The ingredients on all the items are good, real vanilla, no PGPR though no indication what the cacao levels are on the products. (Well, also no indication of what the caffeine levels are on the coffee ones!)
To start, I tried the Milk Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans. They feature the Caffe Verona beans at the heart, sourced from around the world and prepared in the Italian roast style. Inside the little stand up box the glossy beans are sealed inside a clear cellophane bag. The size is 3.5 ounces and retails for $4.99 to $5.49.
They smell very sweet, the chocolate is milky and soft to the bite (so no flaking off). The combination of the crunchy bean at the heart and the chocolate coating is nice. A bit on the sweet side for me, when it comes to coffee confections, but still very nice. The consistent quality of the beans are a highlight. I ate at least a dozen and didn’t get a chewy or acrid one. (7 out of 10)
Milk Chocolate. They say it’s, “Sweet, silky indulgence; rich & rewarding” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a much smoother chocolate than I’m accustomed to from Hershey’s or even Scharffen Berger. It has some strong vanilla notes and a good milky texture. (8 out of 10)
Dark Chocolate. They say it’s, “Deep, complex flavors; smooth and satisfying” and I think that was overselling it. It was rather sweet but still smooth. It lacked a depth of flavor, but it pairs well with coffee, has only the slightest acidic tang and has a good buttery melt. (7 out of 10)
They come in both 3 ounce bars or a mixed bag of tasting squares (that include the Mocha Dark Chocolate). Bars are $2.99 and the tasting squares are $4.99-$5.49 for 2.6 ounces (kinda silly, really to pay so much more for so much less).
Passion(r) Dark Chocolate features a Tazo herbal blend of hibuscus & natural flavors. It has a very fruity scent and a grainy melt on the tongue. The little grainy bits are tangy and have a strong berry (and hibiscus) flavor to them with a tint of peach and passion fruit. It’s purely a personal thing but I thought this was dreadful ... from the texture to the combination of flavors, the sickly scent and the way it all overwhelms the chocolate. (4 out of 10)
Citron(r) Dark Chocolate is also a Tazo blend of tea leaves and lemon oil. This one smells pleasantly of lemon, but very little of chocolate. The texture is not as grainy as the Passion, but still not smooth. The lemon essence was strong, but had no citrus tang to it, thankfully. Still, no chocolate flavors came though, nor much of the tea base either. (6 out of 10)
Mocha Dark Chocolate should epitomize this fusion of chocolate and Starbucks, right? It smells wonderfully rich, a combination of chocolate and coffee and a dollop of vanilla. It’s apparent looking at the square from the back that it has ground coffee beans in it, not just an infusion of flavor. It’s a bit grainy but crispy when chewed. It’s much like the chocolate covered coffee beans, but has a stronger chocolate flavor to it that isn’t quite overhwhelmed like the others. Still, I’m not one for the bits in there, but I admit that’s a personal preference. (6 out of 10)
Chai Milk Chocolate includes Tazo tea leaves and natural flavors in milk chocolate. It smells quite rich, mostly of nutmeg, cardamom and clove. Though it looks grainy, it’s really quite smooth even with the little inclusions. It has a wonderful spicy mix of flavors without being too sweet. I’m a big fan of spicy chai but can’t stand how sweet it can be. This is a very nice mix, I almost like it better than the Dagoba bar (which has actual ginger pieces in it). (7 out of 10)
What I found most surprising about this collection of chocolate tasting squares branded by a coffee company was that three out of the six of them were tea infusions and only one was actually a coffee flavor. Their slogan for the line of products is, “when coffee dreams, it dreams of chocolate” but I think it should be, “when coffee dreams, it ends up with tea in its chocolate.” Some sort of self-loathing or something. (Or adverse reaction to cannibalism, of course coffee doesn’t want coffee!)
The curious part is that Starbucks is not selling these at their stores or even on their website. They’re a Starbucks experience without a Starbucks shop. Like the Choxie line at Target, I think they’ve done a nice job of finding the essential nature of what they have to offer, packaging them nicely and charging the appropriate amount that people are willing to pay for a personal indulgence.
I’ll have a roundup of the Truffles in a separate post.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.