Sunday, November 18, 2012
There has been a burger renaissance over the last few years, at least in the northeast. Shake Shack, Schnipper's Quality Kitchen, Five Napkin Burger, and others have returned attention to the simple pleasures of a really good burger as an accessible and quick meal. The imprimatur of Danny Meyer has also rehabbed the image of the burger, making it seem like a protein-rich, healthy-ish choice. But these new wave sort-of-fast-food joints with their sleek retro-hip environments kmay have a sleeping giant of a competitor: Burger King.
Before I continue, a full-disclosure moment: Burger King franchisees in the tri-state area have philanthropy built into their culture. At least four times a year, they do some kind of fundraising campaign in their stores. I happen to run Hope & Heroes Children's Cancer Fund, which is one of the charities they support. However, nothing I'm saying here is driven by any other motive than to report on a recent limited edition food experience.
OK, back to the sleeping giant theory. While I don't frequent fast food or chain restaurants all that often, because of my work with Burger King franchisees I usually end up visiting a few of their restaurants each year. I have often thought that their burgers were quite good and a real cut above McDonald's. This is especially true of their limited edition premium items, like the Steakhouse Burger they had a few years ago. As I recall, they charged $7.95 for it, which is real money in a fast food context - but then, it was a real burger. Made with flavorful Black Angus beef and fully featured with crispy onions and a dollop of A1 sauce, among other toppings, it was a delicious and satisfying treat.
Anyone who reads the business section knows that Burger King Corporation has had its struggles in the last decade. Heavy competetive pressure from the McDonald's behemoth (over 12,800 restaurants in the U.S. vs. about 7,250 Burger Kings) has certainly been a factor, as has some less than successful products and ad campaigns. Earlier this year, as I was eating in a BK, it suddenly occurred to me, what if they went head to head with Shake Shake and the like, instead of trying to invade the margins of McDonald's global dominance? Do people who eat at Schnipper's et al know that extremely tasty burgers are available at their local Burger King? Or has fast food been so demonized by the likes of Michael Pollan, Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation, that any place with bright colors and toys for kids is just out of the question for the thoughtful diner?
My first impression did not diminish: this is a good burger, especially due to the crunchy freshness of the lettuce and onion, and far better than many might expect. Without doing a side by side comparison I can't be totally sure, but I think it would stack up well against Shake Shack's offerings, even besting them, albeit with higher caloric cost (although the Whopper Jr. Is quite comparable). Schnipper's handily beats out Danny Meyer's chain and would likely win out over this one as well. It may not be as heavenly as that Steakhouse burger, but if you're in the mood for a hamburger and the line at your local new wave spot is long, find the nearest BK and grab one of these before they're gone. A bite or two and you'll forget the cartoon colors and toys. Don't forget to order some of those recently reformulated fries as well - they are truly fabulous.
Gingerbread Flavor Creme Oreos
After the debacle of the Candy Corn Oreos, which were reviled by most everyone who bothered to track them down at Target, Nabisco has rebounded with a winner. While these are not in any way revelatory, it's a simple, well-executed idea that flows from their other products. Essentially, they took their standard white Oreo cookie and filled it with a new creme that has a warm and homey flavor. I've really been enjoying them with only one minor complaint: the texture of the thick filling is such that the cookies don't really stick to it. This just means you have to be careful to grab a whole cookie sandwich from the package - so much for mindless snacking!
Availability: Both products should be around through the end of the year.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
While the idea of candy corn is a fairly slender thread to hang another product from, it does set up certain expectations in the consumer. Part of our enjoyment of food is based on anticipation, after all, and when they are dashed it can be hard to sort out what's happening in our mouth. For example, bringing a juicy hamburger to your lips and having it taste like a peach, no matter how delicious, would be a disturbing experience. While the disconnect with the White Chocolate Candy Corn M&M's is not that great, it definitely exists and ruined my first sample. Their flavor has none of the candy corn notes I was hoping for so they just tasted off.
The ingredients tell the tale: while they list "artificial and natural flavors," there is no honey or vanilla called out specifically. Fortunately, since 2004, FDA regulations have required white chocolate to have at least 20% cocoa butter, which is listed as the second ingredient here. That led me to taste again and turned out that when I discarded any candy corn notions, I found that these were really good white chocolate treats.
Come to think of it, it's about time there were white chocolate M&M's, even if they had to arrive in a candy corn-shaped Trojan horse. So have no fear - pick up a couple of bags before the Halloween stuff disappears. Eat them plain or make a big hit by throwing them in trail mix or brownies.
Availabilty: Throughout the Halloween season, which means you will find them in the 50% off bin on November 1st - if you find them at all.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Apparently I missed the first in the Eggo Seasons line, which is shocking as I consider myself contractually obligated to to try every S'mores flavored thing out there, even though they are almost always disappointing. While I was somewhat disturbed to see the Pumpkin Spice Eggos in my grocer's freezer before Labor Day, I signed up for a box.
|When frozen, they didn't look quite as advertised.|
I should say that I'm not the biggest fan of Eggos. Compared to a homemade waffle, they make for a pretty meagre meal and seem to leave you hungry mere minutes later. My son is devoted to the Nutri-Grain variety so I'm grateful to Kellogg's for making something fairly nutritious that he will eat, but I'm never tempted to pop one in the toaster oven for myself while I'm fixing his breakfast.
Now for the anti-climax: I cut into the thing and tasted it straight up, no maple syrup, and...nothing. Not a hint of pumpkin. What there was, however, was ginger. Lots and lots of ginger. Now, for a home baker like me, this is counter-intuitive. Unless it's ginger bread or another ginger-specific product, most recipes (including my go-to pumpkin bread from the Joy Of Cooking), use ginger as a hint to complement the main player, cinnamon. Not here. Kellogg's must have gotten a good deal on ginger because they're tossing it around like salt. Maple syrup helped calm things down a little but the dried pumpkin remained elusive.
Maybe Kellogg's should try pumpkin puree next time - that's what I'm going to use when I make a corrective batch of pumpkin spice waffles.
Availability: Until the end of the season, which will probably be around Halloween when the store aisles begin filling up with Christmas products.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
|I grabbed these goodies at the Stop & Shop|
There has been plenty of debate about the the philanthropic philosophy behind the cookies and whether they should be healthier, or if they are any good to begin with - or at least better than generally available commercial cookies. But that's all grist for the mill on another day. Under discussion is the new collaboration between Nestlé Crunch and Girl Scouts, leading to the creation of candy bars "inspired by the three most popular flavors of Girl Scout Cookies": Thin Mints, Caramel & Coconut and Peanut Butter Creme.
Since I believe mint belongs mainly in toothpaste, Juleps and Mojitos, I tasted the latter two. Both types consist of a wafer cookie containing the titular flavors topped with a layer of crisp rice and enrobed in milk chocolate. From the first ultra-crunchy and tasty bite, I knew they had a winner. Incredibly light but with layers of rich flavor, these little bars are addictive. Fortunately a "serving" with under 200 calories consists of two bars so you can indulge a little. Based on these two, I'm sure Thin Mints fans will be more than satisfied.
|I spotted this dump in a Rite Aid|
Availability: They've been on sale since early June and the supply should hold out until around Labor Day.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
I thought this was the last of the Limited Editions they were going to release this year (besides the Peppermint Bark that doesn't come out until October), but I noticed on their website that two more are on the horizon: Sweet Chai Latte and Caramel Apple Pie. Let the hunt begin.
Availability: Their site says Blueberry Crumble is on sale January through December but it took me several months to find it. Grab it if you spot it!
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Summer seems to bring on a bumper crop of limited edition treats so let's get right to it.
Oreo DQ Blizzard
After the overwhelming success of the 100th Birthday cookies, the combination of Oreo with the words "limited edition" elicits a positively Pavlovian response in this consumer. These are supposed to hearken to the Blizzards sold at Dairy Queen, which are basically soft ice cream with a topping (or toppings) stirred in using a clever machine that turns a plastic spoon into a mixing blade. Blizzards (or McDonald's McFlurries or Friendly's Friend-Zies) can be a lot of fun but unfortunately, this is really just a double stuff Oreo with some black flecks in the creme filling. The flecks are pulverized Oreo wafers and are meant to evoke "cookies'n'creme" but they have a negligible - and negative - effect on the flavor. No need to run to the grocer and hoard these, but if you know anyone sitting on a stash of Birthday Cake Oreos send them my way.
Let's talk nutrition. The serving size of regular Oreos is three cookies while for the DQ Oreos it's two cookies. For easy side-to-side comparison, I looked at six of each. Six standard-issue Oreos gives you 320 calories, 120 calories from fat, 240 mgs of sodium and 28 grams of sugar. In the other corner, six DQ Oreos provides you with a hefty 420 calories, 180 calories from fat, 300 mgs of sodium and 39 grams of sugar. This explains why they fudged the serving size - and why you might want to avoid eating six of any type of Oreo.
Availability: Released each year in the spring; sold until they run out.
Pop-Tarts Festival Fun Frosted Vanilla I-Scream Cone
Perhaps if they had spent as much time on the actual product as they did on the prolix name, Kellogg's might have had a better result with these. The illustration on the box informs us that this is yet another simulacra, created to imitate vanilla ice cream in a chocolate-dipped and sprinkle-coated cone. That's a lot of culinary weight to heap on these slight things. The expectations were further heightened by the Pop-Tart pictured on the box, which is wearing a lavish coat of chocolate frosting, each sprinkle placed just so, and what looks like a quarter inch of vanilla filling. The actual item is much thinner, with an indifferent swatch of icing and sprinkles that look like they were rejected as irregular by the manufacturer. Crack one open and you'll find a layer of filling better measured in microns than fractions of an inch. "Try'em Frozen" the box suggests so I did. Bad idea, I soon discovered. The cold kills any flavor that the filling might have so the sensation is not unlike eating a soft graham cracker with a little chocolate flavor on the finish. Letting them warm up a bit was an improvement as the filling proved to have a clean vanilla flavor that was not unrelated to ice cream. Since these are classified as "Toaster Pastries" a final taste was in order. Toasting improved the texture immensely but obviously removed any reference to that ice cream cone. Unless Pop-Tarts play a big role in your diet, or that of someone you love, there's nothing to get excited over here.
Availability: About six months, starting in February.
Bonus Section: Discontinued/Sale Items
Here's a smattering of the many items being sold for 33% off at a Stop & Shop I recently visited in Massachusetts.
Coconut M&M'S For a minute, it looked like the green M&M with the hibiscus in her, er, hair was out of a job. However, I confirmed with M&M/Mars that these aren't going anywhere. Stop & Shop probably just wanted to move a few bags, and in my case it worked. Although I am a huge M&M's devotee, it took the threat of their demise for me to try these. While I generally like coconut, the lack of anything with that name in the ingredients was a turn off. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. The coconut flavor may be artificial but it is not overdone and tastes like the real thing, with no chemical aftertaste. Also, no coconut means no coconut oil, so the nutritional profile is similar to plain M&M's. If you go for coconut and are looking to add a little variety to your trail mix, give these a shot.
Availability: Pretty much everywhere.
Martinelli's Sparkling Mango LemonadeTheir apple juice, both sparkling and still, is a classic (and classy) product that seems to have never changed and I don't recall seeing too much in the way of new products from this August company. The ingredients are all natural so there was no reason to think this wouldn't be delicious and it hit that mark easily. Tart and sweet with a fresh mango flavor and the familiar fine bubbles, this is an ideal quencher. And with a little rum and a squirt of fresh lime? Even better. While it's solidly in production, it's not the easiest thing to find so I'd keep an eye out for this and its prickly pear flavored companion.
Availability: Specialty stores, such as Whole Foods. And, occasionally, the Stop & Shop.
Wonka Exceptionals Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate BarThis is from a line of Nestlé products inspired by the Roald Dahl book and subsequent movie adaptations. Promising "truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients," one has to wonder why Nestlé is giving old Willy the axe. While there are a few varieties, this one boasts "milk chocolate with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie & crunchy peanuts" and I usually go for packed candy bars so I decided to taste it. Good stuff! The chocolate is very creamy and the thin bar is densely packed with lots of toothsome bits of a variety of textures and flavors, exactly as advertised. It's failure on the market may be due to the fact that it's actually TOO high quality to exist in the sometimes cheap arena of movie tie-in snacks. While I don't eat a ton of candy bars, this is a fun one and it's too bad it won't be around for much longer. I can also imagine it would be fantastic chopped and added to blondie batter. I might just track down a few bars for just that purpose!
Availability: The entire Exceptionals line of chocolate bars is out of production. Buy'em if you see 'em. The folks at Nestle assured me that more Wonka treats are on the way.
Next time: The elusive Blackberry Crumble Haagen Dazs has been obtained.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I can be a bit of a coffee snob which means the supermarket is not necessarily my favorite place to buy beans. For one thing, there isn't a huge variety of whole bean choices and I prefer to grind before brewing every time. One of my favorite days is when a new shipment of my favorite coffee arrives from Beanstock. Their blends and varietals are the high bar I use to measure all coffees.
All that to the side, I have found Peet's Coffee to be a reliable source of good beans in the supermarket. Their Major Dickason's Blend makes a dark, rich and deeply flavored cup of java that has gotten me out the door on many a ski morning when the flesh was less than willing.
So I was understandably happy to see a new blend from them on the occasion of their 46th anniversary. It can be very dangerous to read the copy on a bag of coffee before you drink it as the hyperbole can unduly influence how you experience it, but I carefully scanned the bag to see what made this blend different. The main distinguishing factor is that 40% of the beans come from Rainforest Alliance Certifiied coffee from the Korona Plantation in Papua New Guinea. I wish I hadn't noticed that Peet's is donating 5% of the proceeds to Korona (up to $25,000) to help them establish clean water access for the local community. The fact that they're doing good made me want to like the coffee more, which could interfere with my objectivity.
I was only able to find ground coffee in my local Stop & Shop, but as Peet's prides themselves on the freshness of their product, I figured it would be close enough. While the first pot I made was too strong (I suck at measuring ground coffee), I could tell right away that this was good stuff. The second pot proved it: complex and dark with fruity overtones, each sip revealed new riches. Smooth and well-balanced, but not shy about its considerable strength, this is a great cup of coffee for morning or afternoon. My wife even thought it the equal of my beloved Beanstock. While I might not go that far, it might be the best coffee in the supermarket right now.
According to Peet's, bags of whole bean Anniversary Blend are available in their retail stores, by mail order and in west coast grocery stores. Even if wouldn't pay the shipping premium to get a crack at the whole beans, I would pick up a bag in in a retail store if I was walking by. And for the record, the hype on the bag was right on the money when it mentioned "the rich, vibrant and ripe fruit aromas."
Availability: Varies across channels. Mail order: Order by May 2nd. Retail: Until May 8th. Grocery Stores: Until May 25th.
What's your favorite coffee?
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Kings County Distillery Chocolate "Flavored" Whiskey - Although I have no intention of entering into the crowded field of whiskey writing on a regular basis, I am making an exception for our hometown heroes partly to support them and partly because this is such an unusual product.
The beverage was the result of a chance observation by Colin Spoelman, a co-founder of the artisanal distillery. During a visit to Mast Brothers chocolate in Williamsburg, he noticed a pile of cocoa bean husks that were going to be discarded and decided to try crumbling them and combining them with Kings County whiskey. The experiment yielded 768 small bottles of a dark brown liquid that is being sold for a mere $22.
So, seeing as how I scored the last bottle that Park Avenue Liquor Shop had, is it worth you going down the list of stores on Kings County's website and trying to track one down for yourself? Unfortunately, if you have any interest in alcoholic drinks and chocolate, the answer is yes. Before I go on, let me just say that if you haven't tried an artisanal whiskey, you may want to start there. A sip of Kings County, Tuthilltown, Berkshire Mountain or one of the others that have been springing up across the country in recent years, is quite a different experience than your Maker's Mark or (my favorite) Elijah Craig. Instead of the smooth multilayered flavors of those you get bold, rough-hewn drinks that are equally fascinating and delicious, but that may require a little more effort on your part to enjoy fully. Most of that is likely due to expectations, - a huge part of how we experience taste - so once you immerse yourself (not literally, please!), you'll want to add small distilleries to your regular repertoire.
Now back to the matter at hand. Even without a label, the uniqueness of the drink would be immediately apparent, due to it's deep color and the little bit of husk residue at the bottom of the bottle. The next clue is in the nose, which is full of rich chocolate notes and a slight yeastiness. All of that comes through like gangbusters in the first sip, which I took straight and held on my tongue while breathing through my nose to gather all the flavors on my palette. The customary spiciness of the Kings County corn liquor provided a solid foundation for the huge cocoa overtones, which I would compare to an ultra-bittersweet chocolate. There was also a slightly fruity and winey quality that came through in the back of my mouth as I drank. Next, I tried it with a few drops of water and found that it provided a nice balance to the flavors and calmed down the spice and wine a bit. A single ice cube also led to the same result. The final verdict is that this is an eminently drinkable whiskey that is unlike anything I have tried and that will be a treat for lovers of sophisticated chocolate. I can imagine it blending well with coffee but did not feel the need to mix it with anything.
Lastly, while this is not an entry-level whiskey like Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey, it might be an interesting bridge to brown goods for wine-lovers looking to make that move. So get on the phone and find a bottle. Don't come around my place - mine is almost gone already!
Haagen Dazs Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars - This is the hand-held analog to the wonderful Salted Caramel Truffle ice cream that I reviewed last time and it in no way disappoints. The milk chocolate coating is thick and dimensional and the dependable Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream combines nicely with the rich caramel swirl, which is identical to the one found in the ice cream. If you don't feel like having another bowl and spoon to clean, this will satisfy your salted caramel cravings.
Chocolate "Flavored" Whiskey - extremely limited. Get on the horn or shoot an email to Kings County to find one.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars - February to December.
I'm still looking for the Blueberry Crumble ice cream. Maybe Park Avenue Liquor Shop has a pint...
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Another week and more ice cream to taste. Surely, I have set a row that is too tough to hoe - but I will press on with two more entries in the current portfolio of Haagen Dazs Limited Edition Flavors.
Coconut Macaroon - This entry comes just in time for Passover, with it's memories of a clump of stuck together macaroons served out of a Manischewitz can. The picture on the package certainly triggers this association, as Haagen Dazs's cookie looks remarkably like those. They are most definitely not piggy-backing onto the current craze for filled French macaroons (or macarons) that seem to be edging out cupcakes as NYC's treat du jour. While Manischewitz macaroons are still served at our Seders, I have been making my own with a simple recipe of egg whites, ground almonds and sugar and enjoying those more. However, I am a coconut hound in general so I put any concerns aside when sampling this flavor. Unfortunately, the best I can say is that it's not bad. There is plenty of coconut flavor, but it lacks depth somehow. It doesn't fade out but seems to just come to a full stop on the palate. Also, the macaroon bits are so small that I found my tongue working hard to seek out the barest bits of browned and caramelized coconut, hoping to find the depth of flavor there. I found it surprising that the ingredients for their macaroon did not include egg whites, but according to a little research that is not uncommon. In any case, I don't think that is the issue with this just OK flavor. Coconut fans only need apply.
Salted Caramel Truffle - The combination of salt and caramel has also become ubiquitous around town in recent years, most recently in the form of insanely great milkshakes at Schnipper's Quality Kitchen and Five Napkin Burger, among other hotspots. Anyone who has enjoyed one of those shakes or fleur de sel caramels (Haagen Dazs's inspiration for this flavor) - or even a chocolate covered pretzel - knows that the combination of salty and sweet is often a winning one. I have to admit that after the milquetoast attempt to replicate affogato, I was a little gun shy before tasting this variety. While it was hard to see how they could go wrong with "smooth, sweet-cream ice cream, ribbons of rich salted caramel, and decadent chocolaty truffles," anything was possible at this point. Just serving it up, however, gave me great hope. The caramel swirl was visible and the truffles huge in this context (see picture). And the taste and mouthfeel did more than not disappoint - they were positively thrilling. The caramel flavor was rich and seemed to go on forever, with a depth and complexity that was very satisfying and left me hungering for more. The hint of sea salt (right there in the list of ingredients) was just right, adding to the layers but not overwhelming the palate. This one is a real winner, folks - grab it!
Availability - Coconut Macaroon: February to September; Salted Caramel Truffle: February to December.
I'm still on the hunt for the Blueberry Crumble - let me know if you spot it somewhere. In the meantime, I am getting acquainted with a very interesting whiskey...
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Vanilla Bean Espresso - Inspired by the classic italian dessert affogato, in which vanilla ice cream or gelato is "drowned" in hot espresso, this flavor falls into the category of what I call simulacra. These are mass-produced products that attempt to replicate something that usually best served fresh. All s'mores products are simulacra and are usually spectacularly unsuccessful at recreating the combination of melted chocolate, caramelized marshmallow and crispy graham cracker that make s'mores so yummy (I still keep trying s'mores products, but that's another story.)
As I love the affogato's combination of bitter coffee and vanilla cream, I had high hopes for this flavor. While I knew Haagen Dazs couldn't repeat the unique hot and cold experience and the way affogato changes while you eat it, I thought they had a good shot at coming up with something for coffee ice cream lovers seeking a new thrill. Alas, it was not to be. The end result is a super-sweet, so-so, vaguely coffee-flavored ice cream. The reason is not hard to discern, due to the huge red flag in the list of ingredients. While the vanilla bean ice cream is made as usual, the "Espresso Swirl" contains (gasp) corn syrup. It's as if Haagen Dazs stared into the black and tannic abyss of coffee and blinked. Since they already make a pretty good straight-up coffee ice cream, it's a shame they didn't create something more sophisticated. With all the post-Starbucks java junkies out there, I'm sure it would have been successful. Better to make your own affogato, or order one.
|You can't really tell them apart - which does not bode well|
for the Vanilla Bean Espresso (right)
Availability for both: February through December
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Food Review, LTD. is here to make sure you don't miss the next winner. I'll buy'em, taste 'em, figure out what makes them special (or not), and try to get the straight dope from corporate on how long you can find them.
First up: Nabisco 100th Anniversary Birthday Cake Oreo
The slick packaging, not to mention the huge dump just inside the Stop & Shop doors, caught my eye immediately. While it was obvious from the picture that they had added some colorful flecks to the creme filling, a cursory inspection did not reveal whether they had added any new flavors. Even though Nabisco has added extended the Oreo product line impressively in recent years, I was somewhat skeptical that they would mess with the basic flavor, even to celebrate a centenary.
As soon as I opened the package, however, there was no doubt. An unmistakable aroma of birthday cake hit my olfactory system and triggered a Pavlovian reaction of happiness and anticipation. With one bite, I fell in love. This is how Oreos should always taste, the dark chocolate of the cookie now complemented with a much more dimensional creme redolent of vanilla and candy. Frankly, I've grown tired of the basic Oreo, only enjoying them crumbled on ice cream or cupcakes, but this has rekindled our formerly torrid affair.
A cursory look at the nutrition information gives some clues as to why they're so good. First of all, each cookie is heavier, leading to a suggested serving of two as opposed to the three of the straight-up Oreo. The Birthday Cake Oreo is also higher in calories and calories from fat, as well as sugar. The list of ingredients is slightly longer and surprisingly no longer includes vanillin. The most obvious additions are natural and artificial flavors, artificial color, corn dextrin, confectioner's glaze and carnuba wax - all common ingredients in candy, especially rainbow sprinkles. Yet, somehow the creme remains creamy and the flavor is greater than the sum of its parts (I usually hate rainbow sprinkles). So dispense with the candles and singing and break open a package!
It's a shame that Nabisco will only be selling them for six or eight weeks - get them while you can.
Feel free to alert me to any new limited edition eats and drinks and let me know what you think - of the cookies and the blog.