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Guest Contributor Nick

Hershey’s Cookies and Cream Candy Bar

As I’ve touched on in the past, Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bar was the first time I ever encountered white chocolate as a pre-teen(aside from Easter bunnies). Well guess what, over the years they’ve changed the recipe and as a result, the Cookies and Cream bar no longer contains cocoa butter.

THIS IS NO LONGER A WHITE CHOCOLATE BAR.

Which puts it in an odd place. I planned this final review of a white chocolate bar, the first time I ever had one in my life, as a cap to the week. But now, in my adulthood, the bar is no longer what it was in my youth. Granted, since the 80s and early 90s, every thing has changed, whey and palm oil and hydrogenates and high fructose have all been added or taken away, but no other candy bar I can think of has removed a quintessential ingredient, one advertised on its LABEL, and still lived on in this way.

Instead, in our great adulthood, we’re left with a cookies and creme bar advertising “now with more cookies”. An alternative universe version of itself. Peeling this bar open though, a wave of nostalgia hit. Though I had a king sized bar, I remember picking up the electric blue(there’s that color again…) packaging at my local neighborhood Publix and always being excited. In my youth, this bar felt creamy, crunchy, and not as sweet and rich as other white chocolate.

That largely remains the same. But now the cookie bits feel bigger, the cream is more like the inside of an Oreo, and it distinctively lacks the over-sweet cocoa butter white chocolate taste. That white fudge consistency where it’s akin to sweetened condensed milk.

As an adult, I enjoy the brighter, crunchier cookie aspect of this more, and find the entire thing akin to a reverse Oreo, a bit of cookie and a lot of cream. Imagine crumbling the cream of a double stuf Oreo with just one of the sandwich cookies, and you’ve pretty much just got this. It’s like somebody’s weird invention, trying to stretch a few cookies that caught on as a family thing. A silky smooth inside out Oreo bar that Oreo never made.

Despite no white chocolate, it’s still one of my favorites. It’s nice to know an old friend has changed a little, but has largely remained the same.

Found at Walgreens.

September 13, 2020
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Twix White

When I was a kid, my mom used to send me to the store to get incidentals. If I was lucky enough, I got to keep the change, and on a subsequent trip I’d grab some kind of candy I liked. In my high school years, my love of Twix got upended by a sudden, torrid love affair with the white chocolate classic, Hershey’s Cookies and Creme. I’ve always been a fan of white chocolate from then on. It’s creamy-sweet in a way that milk chocolate isn’t, more akin to sweetened condensed milk in a solid form.

Mars, Incorporated made Twix White a flavor permanently in 2017, and I’m kind of proud to say that the only alternative Twix I had tried before the start of this year was peanut butter at some point. I decided to grab this at the same time as some other Mars white chocolate finds, so it’s gonna be a doozy of a time.

Fortunately, these don’t look stale or off-colored like the Cookies and Creme. On first bite, and first taste, I got normal Twix, but as the chew went on…? The white chocolate gave way to a smooth texture, and a milky taste. Not in a bad way though, honestly.

The crunchy cookie bar underneath and the textures and tastes above it combined to make this kind of a fresh-baked tasting/fresh-baked warmth in the mouth feeling that filled my nostrils. It was an odd feeling. However, on the off side? The cookie bar is gritty, and as each bite goes on, each chew mixes that grit into the white chocolate and caramel unpleasantly.

This Twix doesn’t have that classic snap under tooth. The white chocolate begins to give way, but the cookie does give a great pop as it breaks.

Overall? Not great. The white chocolate in such a great quantity did give me a bit of the stomach squicks too. If you’re potentially sensitive, don’t do this one in a hurry, and drink water.

You should be drinking water anyway.

Found at Walgreens.

September 12, 2020
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White Chocolate M&Ms

Did you know that the first time white chocolate M&Ms showed up, it was during a promotion for Pirates of the Carribean’s Dead Man’s Chest? Mars launched them as “pirate pearls” and they were colored white, teal and yellow. Not that I had them back then, it was probably during Easter over 4 years later. I can’t recall a single time in my life I ever saw or even acknowledged a package of white chocolate M&Ms until last month. I bought them along with some other things I reviewed, Skittles Dips and Snickers White among them.

I poured them out onto my desk to find bigger, puffed, oblong M&Ms, very distinguishable from the originals. The finish on them were… lumpy? Not-uniform? I’d call the original M&Ms perfect oblate spheroids, uniform in texture and finish. And these are kinda like the “Nailed It” version of that. If you stare too closely, they’re kinda ugly.

So. Do you like subtlety? Can you spell it? Unlike me, who wrote the word so many times I can’t recognize it anymore? I hope you don’t, because these aren’t subtle, like at all. They’re sweet. Epicly sweet. That cocoa butter, white fudgey, sweetened condensed milk vibe that white chocolate can have, and bad white chocolate has? Yeah. Yes, that’s here, this is it.

Any and all nuance the original M&Ms have, being tiny, sweet little morsels of milk chocolate? Lost here. Gone. Dead. Blown out. If you like white chocolate, and be forewarned I like white chocolate, maybe not a horrible choice as it’s absolutely the star here, but a whole pack? A. Whole? Pack. Bless your soul.

On the con side, and yes, those up there? Those words, those were the PROS, on the con side? The shell on these turned into sharp little shards of candy glass as I chewed them. More often than not I found the candy coating trying to reconfigure itself in a way it could outright hurt me the most while eating them.

Oh, just me?

Okay.

Found at Walgreens.

September 11, 2020
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Snickers White

I fell for the original Snickers during their “Hungry? Why Wait?” campaign in the early aughts. There was something sticking about seeing your favorite celebrities acting cranky only to be handed a Snickers bar and come back down from diva status. It spoke to me. In a time before the protein bar became mainstream, Snickers’ vying placement to be the bar you picked up at the checkout counter worked: ten years on they’re still inscribed with the slogan among others.

Snickers White, like Twix White, used to be a limited edition release. However, at the start of 2020, Mars, Incorporated introduced it into the landy of candy, land of cand[y], the Sovereignity of Sweets full time. When I picked this one up off of the shelf, I felt a bit, odd. I like Snickers for its complexity, it feels like the milk chocolate and nougat and peanuts and caramel have this easy to enjoy cohesion going on. What would that be like with the cocoa butter taste amped to 11?

On first bite, it felt soft. I thought to myself, did Snickers always feel soft? This soft? I chalked it up to the white chocolate probably having a lower melting point than the milk chocolate it was replacing. Thankfully, on the inside, it’s exactly the same, nougat, peanut, caramel, and happily so.

But, eerily enough, the white chocolate doesn’t feel like it makes a difference. It’s white chocolate, yeah, and it thankfully lacks some of the stomach-churning creaminess I’ve come into contact with regarding palm oil and whey(milk) together lately, but there’s something odd going on here, and I’ll get to it. However, on a bigger bite, it’s very noticeable that this isn’t a regular Snickers, but with smaller, tinier bites, it very well could be. Maybe this could be attributed to the lack of toothsomeness the white chocolate affords compared to the stiffer milk chocolate that an original Snickers is draped in.

So I checked the calorie count. Same. The ingredient list doesn’t have anything that would alter the coloring of the chocolate either, baffling me to how exactly this could taste so similar, despite the white chocolate replacing milk chocolate. Could the milk chocolate in a Snickers actually be so sweet that replacing it makes almost no difference? It sounds wild but… could it be true?

If I blindfolded you, I don’t think you could tell I’d given you a Snickers White. Try it out if you want to see for yourself, but me? With this being so close to the original that I already love, I’m going back to the OG.

Found at Walgreens.

September 9, 2020
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Skittles Dips Creamy Yogurt

The word dip brings about so many different concepts in my head, but for me it’s all about the ’96 bop, “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty. And yeah, my brain definitely went, “when I dip, you dip, we dip.” And then I grabbed these, some other items and dipped out. I’ve gotta say, I love buying candy at Walgreens. The one I usually frequent has a very long candy aisle, a little bit hidden from foot traffic, and they always have deals with a Walgreens card. Like, totally not shilling for the ‘Greens, but hey, trying to find single serving variety candy in my area is hard.

I think it was the creamy white on this package of Skittles that drew my eye first. I’m so used to ignoring the all-red, rainbow emblazoned version that seeing this, with an actual lack of candies in favor of showing off one big dip caught my eye. I wondered how a yogurt dipped Skittle would be, and took it for its word that I would easily be able to tell which color was what under that yogurt coating.

I poured these out onto my desk to find adorable, rounded, yogurt-white colored candy. They have a single silver S printed on each, but staring straight at them, unless you bite through or cut them open, you kinda aren’t really telling what’s what flavor wise. The coating is creamy, delicious, and the flavor is light: more of a sweetened yogurt, the kind meant for adults but if you gave it to your kid in lieu of a mini little bite-sized fruit thing, they wouldn’t notice.

But whoa. The chew is… it’s hard. It’s hard as hell. Ow. Like dude, if you have problems with your teeth? No go. If you like eating and chewing other foods, no go. These— ow. My jaw hurt after about SIX of these, and I had a sharing size pack. Have you ever looked ahead into your immediate future and felt afraid? That’s what I did. I had a That’s So Raven vision of my teeth falling out and I felt SCARED. And to be fair, hours later, my jaw still felt stiff. Wow.

Underneath the coating, they’re Skittles, little fruit flavor bombs of awesomeness, but I’ll be damned if I need to like, suck the yogurt off of a candy shell before I get to crunch in. I suspect that perhaps cooling the yogurt shell to a hardening point probably affected the Skittles underneath, making them at least twice as hard as they should be.

These ended up being an odd pick. Before I scooped them up, I was imagining a sweet, yogurt-covered raisin type exterior, and I got a completed shell version of that. Aesthetically, they’re super pleasing. I love the white shell, I love the little silver S. But golly gee whiz, I’m never attempting to chew one of these ever again.

Yeah no.

I put my hand up on your hip, when I dip, you dip, we dip.

Found at Walgreens.

September 5, 2020
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Carr Valley Cheese Glacier Wildfire Blue

As previously seen this season, I’ve been trolling for new things, both for review purposes and for just plain eating. This year, despite everything, summer has been a good time for new products, especially for me, certified heatseeker. On that same vibe, comes something I never thought I’d see: a spicy blue cheese. Now, don’t look at me that way, I’ve been a fan of the blue since the early 90s, when Wishbone was pushing salad dressings hardcore. I grew up in a household where cuisine was primarily Puerto Rican, through the eyes of a Trinidadian mother, who cooked for the family, to my stepfather’s tastes. Salads, made of iceberg and beefsteak tomato would sometimes be adorned with cucumber. I remember young me moving from the thousand island I was accustomed to(never, ever again, please), to the more refined palate of blue cheese my mother regularly ate.

Ever since then, blue cheese was my dressing of choice. It grossed out my friends, it still does, and when I got older, gorgonzola took over. Young me got on that stinky cheese train early, and when I started my current job and got intimate with more cheeses, I went from being just a heatseeker to also being a stinky cheese boy.

Picking this up, it didn’t smell particularly pungent through its sealed plastic wrapping and foil. Slicing it open, not much, barring that and opening the thing, near nothing. I wasn’t exactly enthused. It’s just not pungent, despite being a blue. The wildfire name refers to peperoncinos added in as a final ingredient, and when I saw that after having purchased it, I stared at the flames on the package and felt cheated.

However, cheated as I felt, I keep going. This wedge is speckled with blue, with deep veins running through with rich deposits. Seriously, this is so littered with blue, if it was a normal cheese I’d probably die from eating it. For a blue though? Let’s go.

The bottom, technically top of the cheese doesn’t have any blue running through it, but has a few scattered pepper seeds here in there, meaning it’s likely aged, flipped, and then wrapped to present the blue side.

The cheese is firm, chalky, salty… salty… with a bite at the end. It’s an eligible crumbler, smushes between the fingers but it isn’t overly delicate. I did find it to have a creeping building heat, but not much. With so little ingredient wise here(milk, bacteria and enzymes, salt, peppers) the salt comes through more than anything else. Seriously, this is the second time I’ve described food as salt and fire. Ack.

Despite that, each bite was satisfying. The salt diminished in the mouth, and the creeping fire of the peperoncino lingered and fizzled. The chalky texture diminished after each swallow with no aftertaste of film. The salt inside isn’t crystallized but it does hide in pockets. This is a sometimes salty, sometimes not salty cheese. Surprise salt.

I used this in conjunction with sour cream, mayo, red wine vinegar and lemon juice to make a little bit of blue cheese dressing, topped a wedge of iceberg lettuce with my homemade dressing, a little more of the crumbled cheese and bacon and had a great dinner. I added pepper to my dressing, I did not add salt, I didn’t dare.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

September 2, 2020
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St. Albans Aged Cows’ Milk Cheese

St. Albans comes in a tiny clay crock, which is super cute and very convenient for the would-be fonduer. It even suggests popping this in the oven for a molten, melty treat. I found these little pucks stacked up in a corner of the cheese cold case in Trader Joe’s. Cheese is a luxury purchase for me, I usually grab slices, singles or bags of shreds(I know, shame, shame), a wedge or specialty cheese I usually save to buy to enjoy with friends. If it isn’t obvious, I didn’t grow up eating a lot of cheese. At least, not anything that didn’t in some form of the color yellow, and have the words American in it. On the flip side, this is an aged cows’ milk cheese with a nicely designed label. Welcome to adulthood, I guess.

The smell from the wrapped package is unctuous and deep. Foot-like, but foot-lite, it’s a stinky one, but not anything near levels of stink that might drive a novice cheese aficionado away. For it’s price, $3.99, it’s a definite steal. Combining the value of the crock and a 80 calorie, 3 serving puck of cheese, this is fondue for one. Midsummer? Yeah. I did it, and you can too. It’s worth it.

Out of the oven(400F for 20 minutes, left out on the counter to come to room temp when brought home before heating), this wasn’t molten hot, but gooey, and delicious. I took a bit of video where I tested how much it would stretch but I won’t be posting it because it looks kinda… gross. It smelled mild, and tasted nutty. Nutty, nutty, nutty. Overall, I would describe it as light, mild, delicious and inoffensive. It reformed quickly as I ate dinner, but it’s signature taste, the nutty, milky vibe, that felt fresh and vibrant the whole way through.

Personally, I made dinner in mind with this. Sliced and roasted zucchini and gold potato, with a panko-breaded chicken katsu from a previous dinner reheated in the oven. I will say, that because of its quick return to low viscosity, its thickness didn’t perform as well as I would’ve liked with the zucchini, which fell apart when I tried to dunk anything in about five minutes out.

This was a fun treat, and on some nights I’m thinking of going light and lean, I would definitely try some breaded chicken breast and potatoes with it again.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

August 29, 2020
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Flying Embers Hard Kombucha Pineapple Chili

If you’re like me, it took you years to get into kombucha. It’s vinegary, sour-smelling off-putting taste probably hit your nose and distracted you from what could maybe have been an acquired, one-of-a-kind adventure. I eventually did get into drinking it, after an upset stomach hit and being told the probiotics in kombucha could help me right my wrongs and fix me right up. A modern magic elixir. Not that I believe in such things.

I sometimes stroll through my local Trader Joe’s in hopes of finding a new drink, although I don’t drink very many things with calories, as it were, I am partial to certain flavors of alcohol. In recent times, some products, such as the tiny bottled hard kombucha under the brand Kyla have been harder to find and in some cases have straight up disappeared from store shelves. So when I saw THIS on the shelf I knew it was a matter of having to try it, and having to try it meant having to review it. I think. I did it anyway.

Right off the bat, the can advertises this to have nothing added, be gluten free, non-gmo, vegan, keto, organic and has live probiotics. Like most hard kombuchas, this is 6.8% ABV, which is impressive.

It pours opaque, but not dark. The juice color is a mix of their root blend: ginger, turmeric, pineapple and chili. Off the bat, it’s missing kombucha’s vinegary taste profile(or I’ve gotten so used to it I can’t taste it anymore). It has a nice mouthfeel and residual tingle and mouthburn. Never feeling alcoholic, this kombucha goes down easy, and for a fan of say, cayennade by GTs or other brands, this is a twist on that with a bit of sweetness.

Not to say this is sweet. To try and describe it, it’s as if you took pineapple juice and sucked the sugar out. It’s got phantom sugar. Beyond that, it’s spicy. And this has a fun, spicy, sparkling juice flavor that builds mid-glass and continues until the end.

For 130 calories, this is a must-buy. It checks the boxes of a good beverage meeting the needs of several different niches. Remember, this is gluten free, non-gmo, vegan, keto, organic and has live probiotics. I’d buy this again(and did cop an additional four pack after my initial two taste test) but initially, my thoughts said, “joke’s on you, I don’t have to wait, because I bought two.”

Oh, and a word to the wise? This is easy drinking, but it does hit hard. Drink responsibly.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

August 26, 2020
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Trader Joe’s Hatch Chile Cheddar Seasoned Popcorn

For the most part, I don’t enjoy flavored popcorns. Aside from kettle corn(and most I dislike, even at that) I find the flavors to be mockeries of what they claim to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t bemoan their existence, I don’t argue their right to be. They’re just not right for me, my palate and my sensibilities. I’m just not into them.

So why, for the life of me, did I pick up Trader Joe’s Hatch Chile Cheddar Seasoned Porcorn? Chile. Spice. Hot. I wanted hotcorn. Did I get it? Not… not exactly? I got, something. Something that trends on the side of cheesy and less on the side of heat, but kinda gets there.

For my palate, this isn’t spicy. This isn’t even the level of a creeping spice. Eating more and more handfuls of these won’t do anything more to bring you intensity and heat. You’ll maybe get thirsty, and maybe feel like your mouth is coated in mild chile dust. …like I did. The seasoning mixture is made up of “hatch chile cheddar seasoning” which is a mix of a cheddar blend and whey powder, buttermilk and salt, more “spices”, additional whey, sea salt, green bell pepper powder, hatch chile pepper powder, onion powder and garlic. See what I mean? There’s barely any heat because they literally skimped on it. That green bell taste is there to add “pepper” flavor and a touch of bitterness.

This popcorn isn’t Wise or Smartfood White Cheddar(the absolute standard), but it is somewhat cheesy. It isn’t flagrantly hot. But it is popcorn, and that’s something I’ll give it points for. Knowing TJs, they probably put some of their experience finding delicious popping kernels into this to ensure they it did at least meet that minimum standard.

Huh, after eating this to sample it and eating some when I opened the bag and then munching on it to review, the corner of my lip is a bit irritated.

I’ll take it.

Found at Trader Joe’s.

August 22, 2020
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Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats with Milk Chocolate M&Ms Minis

Certain foods have stuck with me my whole life. Coke, Chipotle, a fondness for the flavor combos of Chewy bars but not the grittiness of actually eating them, and lovingly staring at Rice Krispies Treats bars. Today on my way home, I picked one up, imagined its marshmallow and crisped rice flavor and smiled. It was chock, and I mean chock— FULL of mini M&Ms.

When I was growing up, my high school served Domino’s Pizza in the cafeteria, had soda machines in every hallway on the main campus and snack machines mostly near the lunchroom. I was too poor to eat a slice and afford a drink everyday. I had a ten dollar budget I stretched five days. I regularly ate a cardboard boat of seasoned fries fresh from thaw into the deep fryer and a Sprite. Two bucks a day, five days, covered.

On days where lunches and snacks were shared, two things reigned supreme: peanut M&Ms and RICE. KRISPY. TREATS. As evidenced by my attraction to Cookies and Creme Twix’s electric blue wrapper, Rice Krispies Treats have always held my eye. The snack-size, to-go single one shot versions were always in the lunchboxes of my better-off friends, but every once in a while the line for fries was too long, or I got there too late. So I either chose a Jumbo Honeybun or you guessed it, a Rice Krispies Treat.

I liked them as much then as I do now. Pillowy, crunchy puffed rice. Gooey, sweet marshmallow sugar strings as you pull them apart; because who eats these whole? And now, in adulthood, the crunchy, chocolatey addition of tiny, perfect little M&Ms. They’re the perfect bite, the perfect yield, the perfect chew, the perfect bend and pull and shareable size.

They’re sweet and perfect. The best, best, best version of a marshmallow square you, or your friends, or your mom, or grandma tried to make for you. They don’t use off-brand cereal, they aren’t stale and flat-tasting like other brands. They aren’t too hard and don’t feel like the edges are razor sharp and ready to slice your tongue in two.

It’s commercial marshmallow: corn syrupy, vegetable oil and natural and artificial flavor, toasted rice cereal and mini candy-coated chocolate morsels. If you like that description? Crave that?

Buy one of these.

Found at Wawa.

August 19, 2020
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