Friday, December 27, 2013

Market Pantry, Pumpkin Cheesecake Creme Sandwich Cookies

I've been in America for a few weeks now - so sorry for the lack of posts!

To make up for it, I've got a new camera...well, not just to make up for not posting on this blog, it was more of a Christmas present than a 'make-up-to-your-blog-readers' present...but hey, good nonetheless right?

So I picked these up right before Christmas, and while they're definitely more of a fall treat than a holiday treat they're still pretty seasonal and definitely special for the USA. Can you imagine Tesco having pumpkin cheesecake sandwich cookies? Not likely - and that's sad.

I like this new camera a lot, I would've never been able to get a picture like that previously. There is a bit of a texture problem with these, at least in my opinion - the cookies themselves are extremely crunchy like gingersnaps. Actually, they're quite a bit like gingersnaps in taste as well - spicy, but less ginger and heat and more nutmeg and sweet.

The cream filling is nice, a bit thicker and stickier than Oreo cream, and tasting quite a bit like lemon - more tangy than actual cheesecake, but when eaten alongside the spicy cookie it makes a nice approximation of cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. Not much pumpkin, really - but that is kind of part & parcel of most 'pumpkin' flavored goods. It just means pie spices.

Over all, these cookies were pretty nice, but not the exact 'pumpkin cheesecake' experience I was hoping for. The cream was just a bit too tangy for the taste to be right, and the cookies were a bit too crunchy for the texture to be perfect. I'll finish up the box, but a Christmas miracle these weren't.

Hope you're all having a lovely holiday, and I'll be back to regular posting soon!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Japanese BBQ Cheetos

sweet at first kinda smoky oniony beefy not at all like american bbq chips like nik naks rib n saucy flavor but less savoury not salty

Back again with another Japanese Cheeto review! This one is a bit more esoteric than the Cheeseburger Cheetos, kinda on the level of Avocado Salad, but way less weird than Mentai Mayo.

Japanese Barbecue Cheetos, or 'BBQ Taste' Cheetos, are not what I would've expected as an American from barbecue flavors. In the US, when a chip is flavored like barbecue, that means it tastes just like BBQ sauce - not like meat, or charcoal, or anything other than sauce. That suits me just fine, because it's both what I grew up with, and a delicious tasty treat.

It's a bit hard to tell since most of the packaging is made up of some weird advertisement for the Cheetos mobile website X Thomas the Tank Engine, but behind that is a picture of grilled meat that doesn't look like it's covered in sauce. "Zuh?" I was heard to query, "but where's the sauce?"

Apparently, Japanese BBQ means charcoal grilled meat, with a dipping sauce that's mostly soy sauce, rice wine, and other kind of thing and slightly vinegar-y tastes. Not exactly American style barbecue slathered in red sauce.

So the taste really reflected that. In the USA we don't have many beef or otherwise meat flavored chips, but here in the UK I know that is quite classic. My husband likened these to NikNaks Rib 'n' Saucy flavor...never had them, but I appreciate the regionality of the 'n'.

To me, they tasted quite sweet at first (like all of the Japanese Cheetos do, really) but after a few crunches they taste very onion-y, beefy & smokey. Really nice! I can taste the meatiness, for sure - and even the sort of charcoal smoke from being grilled, in the same way you can taste that in a Burger King cheeseburger.

It wasn't like American BBQ, but then again I didn't expect it to it says right there (presumably) Japanese Barbecue.

The taste was way more familiar to my husband than it was to me, I found the meaty and onion-y taste of these really interesting and strange, and quite tasty - while to him, it was quite a bit like these Nik Naks.

NikNaks, for those of you not in the know (such as me) are an English snack quite similar to Cheetos, except they come in every flavor but cheese. Apparently there was a cheese flavor, but for whatever reason it was discontinued. Now it is Lemon 'n' Scampi (huh), Rib 'n' Saucy (wuh), Pickle 'n' Onion (buh), and finally Nice 'n' Spicy (now that I get). So...weird.

What's up with that? When I think about it, I never see people eat Quavers, either - and I really like them, and the other cheesy airy puffs of their ilk. Is artificial cheese flavor just not that well liked here? Is it because it's so much more culturally acceptable to eat literal cheese in Europe? That makes sense, I suppose. Still though, you're missing out. Fake cheese isn't meant to substitute for the real thing, just like beef jerky isn't the same as steak - but the two can coexist peacefully and happily in a family's shopping cart.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Snowy Road Squares

There were so many interesting things in my local Marks & Spencers. Is that it - both plural...both possessive? Hm. Is this why people always say M&S instead?

I rarely shop there, as it's a bit expensive but not necessarily exciting; even more so I used to only pass one on my way home that was always absolutely heaving with people. Now I have one very near my actual  house, and even though the hours are not at all conducive to a person who works (closes at 5 pm, really?) I managed to have a browse over the weekend.

I guess I should've realized that there would be lots of cool Christmas stuff out, but I was still surprised at the amount and how the selection wasn't just like, Jaffa cakes with red middles & Santa shaped chocolate. Oh, there were tons of Santa shaped chocolates, but there was more - much more. I'll be reviewing a few of these things in the coming weeks, but first up is the most exciting and most seasonal:

Snowy Road Squares are white chocolate rocky roads, basically.

And I love rocky road. Sometimes it is bad, like when there are barely any biscuit pieces and virtually no raisin or cherry pieces, but when you get the ratio right it is one of the most perfect desserts ever. I wasn't a fan of a rocky road ice cream in America, so it took me awhile to try the bars here in the UK, but I'm so glad I did.

You can probably tell that this is a good variety to me, as there are lots of visible chunks of cherry - nary a square was missing cherry. The little white chocolate swirl was nice, and did a serviceable job of binding the top bits to the underlayer. The marshmallows were a sweet combination of pink and white, and really blended in nicely with the white chocolate. It did look pretty festive and cute - I guess the cherries can be discarded Santa hats.

In contrast to most rocky road I have tried, there is actually more 'biscuit' than there is chocolate in these - but I'm not complaining.

The taste was just super - if you're in the mood for sweetness. The cherries are sweet and soft like jelly, the biscuit is sweet and crunchy, the white chocolate is sweet and smooth, and finally the marshmallows are also sweet and bouncy.

Now, the best rocky road I ever had was made by my mother in law and had dark chocolate, cherries, and ginger biscuit pieces. It was insanely good, crunchy and not too sweet.

On the other hand, I love white chocolate and 'very sweet' things most of the time, so this goes right up there as my 2nd favorite rocky road. The only improvement that I think could be made to this is ginger biscuit pieces rather than the sort of plain, buttery biscuit that are in these. It would just add a nice bit of heat and contrast to what is otherwise purely sugar in various textural forms. Again, not that I'm complaining.

Get on it, Marks and/or Spencers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mentai Mayo Cheetos

Another weekend, another odd Japanese Cheeto flavor. Previously I've reviewed Cheeseburger Cheetos, and Avocado Salad Cheetos - two foods that I have eaten in non-Cheeto form.

This time though, it's a Cheeto of a different stripe: rather than being a Japanese Cheeto flavored with a traditionally Western flavor, it's a Japanese Cheeto flavored with food that probably isn't known by a sizable portion of my old high school...Mentaiko Mayo.

"Zuh?" You might be asking - or you're way more cultured than me and you're all like, "Creamy Steaks, you big dumby! Mentaiko Mayo is cod roe mixed with mayonnaise...wait a minute, do you not know what cod roe is? Egg mass, dumbass" you'd say, proud of both your cultural reference, rhymes, and knowledge. Well, aren't you cool - I actually ate these Cheetos though, and that's got to count for something in this world.

I suppose the little red dots are meant to look like flecks of roe - pretty cool.

Upon opening, these smelled like smoky bacon chips. I was worried they would smell like fish (one of my top Worst Smells) but luckily it was just artificial smoke & bacon. Weird, but not disgusting. I do hate the taste of bacon chips though, so I was apprehensive.

I've never eaten cod roe before & mayonnaise isn't so high on my list of Top Foods either - so I wasn't sure what to expect from these especially since they smelled like bacon.

The first taste was kind of tangy and buttery like mayonnaise - since I don't make a habit of eating mayonnaise without any sort of accompaniment I can't say if it tasted exactly mayo, but it had the same tangy zip.

As for cod roe, like I said I've never had it, but as I continued I had a flavor that must've been the mimic of cod roe. They tasted quite creamy, with just a hint of a seafood taste - similar to scampi/lobster/fried shrimp...the very best kind of fishy taste. There was still that little bit of tang, like mayo but almost like lemon on a lobster.

Now, all this is of course on a crisp-ity crunch-ity Cheeto, and not a delicious melting fleshy lobster; so lobstermen around the world, your job is not in danger. Thanks for all that dangerous fishing, by the way.

Would I get these again? Probably not, because even though the taste was pretty good even I have to draw the line at some point...some foods are not meant to be crunchy, and lobster/fish & mayo are some of them. In the grand scheme of things, these are some of the weirdest Cheetos I've come across (barring the as-of-yet reviewed Pepsi Cheetos) and they taste pretty nice, so if you were hosting a dinner party dedicated to weird flavors (a party theme I highly recommend) these would be a great appetizer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa

I'm glad I've came around to Russell Stover, elsewise I might've never even heard of this Red Velvet Santa.

Red Velvet makes so much sense with Santa, even though I've never thought to put the two together...I mean, what fabric do you think that suit is made of, polyester? Get real, no way that would keep out the cold. Santa's a velvet man if I've ever seen one...and I have. It's Santa. Santa is the velvet man.

So, he's not looking too different in this package, he's still your classic white-bearded Saint Nick, Teddy Bear in tow. No indication of what the chocolate is going to be like, but since it says 'Red Velvet Santa' I presume it will be Santa-ish in shape.

Doesn't look like Santa at all. Maybe it's meant to be his beard. I can kind of see that...Also, a chocolate beard seems thematically appropriate for Santa - just his style.

Very nice vivid pinky-red color, and the texture seemed quite thick like refrigerated cookie dough. It didn't smell like anything, not even like chocolate.

The texture was thick, and only slightly grainy. It was like refrigerated dough.

It's coated in dark chocolate, which is a really good thing because the inside is basically cake mix with white chocolate and sugar. It tastes like cake mix & white chocolate, but funny enough much less strong or artificial than I would've guessed. That was the way it was for the Caramel Apple Big Bite, as well. It tasted like a cake pop, sort of, coated in dark chocolate. It was nice, but it was sort of missing the part of red velvet cake that makes it very special - the cream cheese frosting.

It could've used a bit of a tang to the inside - that would've been better. As it stands, it kinda tasted like a vanilla-centered dark chocolate truffle. I wouldn't have guessed red velvet, or even cake, really. I'd totally eat it again, but it was just a basic kinda chocolate, really - sort of disappointing! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Avocado Salad Cheetos

Have you ever eaten a vegetable and thought, "Man...if only this was a Cheeto..."

I know I have!

So, along the same lines as the Cheeseburger Cheetos, I heard about these Avocado 'Salad' Cheetos. They had to be mine...along with like, 5 other bags that I will review eventually...and another bag of the cheeseburger ones. So sue me, it was a deal.

I've never eaten avocado salad before, unless you count guacamole which I guess you wouldn't, because it isn't salad. I like guacamole, though! Close enough.

The packaging seems to show slices of avocados & onions...maybe bacon or ground beef in the background? Kinda weird, but I really have no idea what it is meant to be, except the avocados.

So, pour 'em out:

A bit of a subdued pea-green color, and a strong smell of butter & salt. I don't know what I was expecting, maybe a darker green? They're very cool looking though, kind of like they just have a green glow rather than a full-on opaque green color.

They taste very buttery, a bit salty, quite sweet - it reminded me a lot of the very best kernels in a bag of popcorn; the ones that have lots of butter, a little salt, and the natural sweetness of the corn popped through. The only thing is, that every single one of these had that 'best popcorn' taste, and they all had the soft crispy crunch of a Japanese Cheeto, as I've previously explained.

There is an interesting tangy note though, that is more of an aftertaste than an instant flavoration - I'd say it's kinda like dill. My husband suggested that they tasted like some kind of German dill crisps from Aldi? I've never had them, but I'll take his word for it because they do taste like dill. So, kind of herby & tangy, a bit sweet, kinda salty and quite buttery.

They're very tasty, and an interesting flavor that is a bit hard to pin down - I'd suggest them over the Cheeseburger Cheetos if you're looking for intriguing flavors, because I bet you can already taste a cheeseburger corn snack, somewhere in the back of your mind - but can you conjure up the taste of an avocado salad corn snack? Didn't think so.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Russell Stover Caramel Apple Big Bite

It's true what they say, you don't know what you got 'til it's gone. I don't think any American expat expects to be missing the Russell Stover display in their local CVS when they come to the UK, but here I am, wishing I could walk into a drugstore and see Russell Stover, of all brands.

I'm not sure there is an equivelant sort of brand here in the UK, as the chocolates available in grocery stores basically go from 'pretty good' to 'quite nice'. You can get crummy, cheap chocolate in America just as easily as you can get Hershey's or Ghiradelli, but I feel like you've got to seek out the cheaper stuff here in the UK.

Russell Stover is considered to be lesser-quality chocolate than Hershey's, Lindt, or any of the other American grocery store mainstays - on the same level as Palmer's - cheap novelty chocolates more or less just sold at holiday time.

Now I'm beginning to think reputation is a bit unfair to old Mr. Stover.

I mean, when is the last time Hershey's stuck their neck out and tried a caramel apple chocolate? A few years ago with Hershey's Kisses, yes...but uh, this is now! And this is Russell Stover, formerly known to me as purveyors of cheap assorted chocolate boxes for guilt-stricken spouses, and children's holiday confectionery. Clearly, times have changed since I last bought a Marshmallow Easter Bunny.

 This isn't even the weirdest product they're selling! Expect a review of this Red Velvet Santa soon.

So, kudos to Russell Stover for trying something new, but is it just a valiant effort with some chocolate that's too far gone to be good?

Keep in mind that this is 2 oz worth of caramel, and it cost just a little more than one American dollar. Zowie. The shape is very good, it looks like an apple and it could easily become a skull with a tiny hat at Halloween - smart move, Stover. The streaks of dark chocolate are a nice touch, really reminds me of caramel apples that have chocolate stripes as decoration. Makes even more sense that the other Caramel Apple chocolate in the line is coated in peanuts, an even more classic combo.

 It's quite a heavy bar, and it smelled like chocolate and apple. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtly of the smell, considering apple stuff can sometimes be dreadfully strong - although my most recent experience with apple chocolate was very good, so I suppose leaps and bounds have been made in the apple flavoring market since I tried years ago.

It's funny, but I was really expecting this to be runny caramel. Instead, it was that sticky, chewy stuff - a bad sign for me. I'm not so into caramel one way or another, I think it's a nice way to deliver sugar and a much better way to deliver salt & sugar, but if I'm going to eat caramel I always prefer it to be runny & dribbly. The more I have to chew, the less I like a food. I'm kind of a giant baby like that.

So, I split this one in half with my husband as neither of us have the stomach for 2 ounces of pure least not tonight.

It tasted very good, like a big version of the Caramel Apple Milky Way I had earlier this season, maybe a bit more subtly apple - but boy, that caramel was sticky. If you like chewy caramel, than this would be a real treat, it would last a long time and taste very nice. I was torn, because it was quite a bit smoother than chewy caramel usually is, meaning it sort of slid down instead of sticking to my mouth and didn't necessitate that much chewing, but it was still more than I could handle - even just eating half of it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the caramel, the apple flavoring, and even the chocolate - especially for the price these sell at in America. The chocolate was in keeping with the American chocolate I grew up on, sweet but without much 'milkiness', and the caramel was smooth and sweet with a delicate apple flavor, not a blaring twang of fruit. My personal taste in caramel means I wouldn't buy this one again necessarily, but I'm glad I tried it and I'll eat the peanut one in due time. Probably not my next candy bar, but it will get eaten. Or I'll give it to somebody who likes chewy caramel...but who does? ;)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mint Chocolate Pringles, UK

Did you know Pringles aren't actually potato chips? Legally, they will never be under the same banner as your Lay's, your Walker's, et cetera...They're made of dried potato matter, and can best be described as potato-based snacks...where less than half of the ingredients are actually potato.

Here's the tragic reality of Pringles - they have some of the most reliably 'creative' flavors, but the base product is crap. Just total crud. They're dry, they're crumbly, they always seem like they've gone soft & stale, and they're way too salty, regardless of the flavor. Pringles are good for licking, and absolutely horrible for crunching. Also, I always feel sick to my stomach after eating more than like, 5 of them.

Luckily, eating more than 1 or 2 was not an issue with these Mint Chocolate Pringles.

They're absolutely one of the worst things I've ever had the displeasure of thinking about, let alone eating.

It's a blurry, no good picture because I need to write this quickly to alert the world as soon as possible that Pringles has openly declared a war on traditional Christmas flavors. There is also a Sweet Cinnamon flavor, that I can only assume is just as bad. Seriously, nearly at a loss for words with these - and I like salty & sweet, loads.

If you blow this picture up you'll see salt crystals, sugar granules, and I'm certain upon closer inspection Ol' Scratch, the devil, Lucifer - what have you - wearing a Santa hat.

Yes, these are quite gross...fiendishly so.

Not only do they maintain that classic Pringles dry clay texture whilst chewing, they taste like garbage. No really, they taste like a discarded piece of Trident on a tortilla chip. So incredibly bad, and no chocolate. I refuse to accept that there was any attempt to make these taste like chocolate, because if so I'm afraid I've lost confidence in chemicals period...and science in general. The ingredients list cocoa powder, but as you can see those Pringles are completely white - and it's unlikely they used a specially processed cocoa powder that removed the color, because there is absolutely no way anybody put that much thought into these Pringles.

It just tasted like garden mint extract, sugar, and then lots & lots of salt. Salty mint, how festive.

Here's the thing - potato isn't naturally salty, so why bother adding the salt when you're making a sweet thing with potatoes? People do make candy with potatoes, it's not common practice, but they certainly aren't salted into oblivion before being combined with peanut butter or chocolate. If you boiled a potato and ate it with whipped cream yeah, you'd be crazy...but even you wouldn't be crazy enough to put salt on it first. C'mon.

I'm supposed to like this - I like salty & sweet combos, I appreciate 'wacky', and I like limited edition flavors. This is just a swing and a miss from Pringles, which was probably made worse for me because I don't like Pringles at a base level, but adding sugar and spearmint gum into the mix was not the way to my heart.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cheeseburger Cheetos

If you're reading this blog, I assume you are at least a little like me...Not content with just one snack food, you want your treats lost in the masquerade.  Chimeric concoctions like Pumpkin Pudding KitKats, and Candy Corn Oreos. That's me. That's us.

Chips (or crisps) are the easiest conduit for this, since in they can be quite tasteless by their lonesome (being that they are corn and potato byproducts), and often necessitate flavor-blasting of some sort to set themselves apart from the crowd. The only problem is that it ain't always an easy feat, ya know... making reconstituted corn slurry taste like something other than salt. Plenty try it, oh sure, and the packets of Spare Rib Pringles littering discount shops across this great nation are all the proof you need that it doesn't always work.

So what about you, Cheeseburger Cheetos? Either you got it, or you don't.

Again, Japanese packaging means a glossy, realistic photograph of the actual food. It's so different from American packaging, where it's usually a heavily airbrushed illustration of food, or a mascot.

Interesting to note that the cheeseburger seems to have a huge squirt of hot dog relish on it, which isn't exactly kosher. Get it, pickles, relish, kosher? Ah, you get it. Apparently relish is commonly used in Canada and Alaska as a burger topping, but not in the USA. I'm open to relish on a burger, but it was just a bit strange to see it featured so heavily on this photo when it's not regulation.

Also shout out to that big splat of clearly processed cheese. It's best on burgers - B.O.B.

Opening the bag, there was a very promising sweet smell of pickles - 'just my style', I thought, smirking before becoming deeply ashamed of myself.

This was my first trip around the rodeo with Japanese Cheetos -at least since I've started this blog- and I thought the texture was quite different than what we get in the USA. Number one, they're much taller and thinner than American Cheeto sticks, and the consistency is more like an Andy Capp fry than a classic Cheeto. They're kind of in the middle of puffs & sticks, in terms of air-to-Cheeto ratio. This makes them easier to munch down, and seem less greasy than their American compatriots.

I've tried cheeseburger flavored snacks before, and they've always been a bit crappy - mostly flavored with beef extract and salt. I knew these would be different because they smelled so pickle-y.

They taste almost exactly like a plain McDonald's hamburger. It was all there, the pickles, the ketchup, the mustard, the onions...everything...but...the cheese.

It's the strangest thing, Cheetos are known for being cheesy, am I right? These are cheeseburger Cheetos, and I would've presumed they'd be leaning on the cheese part of the burger, ya know? That's there forte, after all.

I think I've read before that Japanese tastes don't necessarily go crazy for cheese, as much of the adult population is lactose intolerant - which might explain the lack of American style cheese hyperblasting on these Cheetos. Nonetheless, they're quite tasty and a good approximation of the taste of a hamburger without the use of much beef extract or cheese powder. They really do taste like that ketchup/onion/pickle/mustard topping on each and every McDonald's hamburger, with the same kinda sweet but mostly savory flavor. I thought they were extremely easy to scarf, and I think this flavor would be well received in the UK and America.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Candy Corn Oreos

The frights ain't over!

I simply had to get this one in before the end of the Halloween season, because they're too nice not to review & too seasonal to review in like, a week. You'll be like, "candy corn? that's OLD news!" So, just for you guys, I ate a whole bunch of cookies. You're welcome.

The candy corn on the packaging looks very airbrushed, and so artificial. America, you're so fake...but that's fine, especially when it comes to cookies.

When I opened these up, they smelled so intensely of candy corn, I felt a bit sick. Candy corn, for those of you not in the know, is a kind of fudge-y, fondant-y textured candy that tastes quite a bit like honey, or in it's best form, buttercream frosting. Really, the entire experience of candy corn & other 'mellowcreme' treats at Halloween reminds me of hardened buttercream frosting, in both taste and texture. Leave a cupcake out over night, and come back to it the next morning and you'll be approximating candy corn pretty well.

So, is this like an Oreo with a day-old cupcake in it? Let's find out...

Dang, that's some great coloration. So vivid - you won't get that in the EU, or any place that's done research on artificial coloring on children - but I'm no child, and I love bright colors. Probably because of early exposure as a child.

So taking a bite, and it tastes quite a bit like the Birthday Cake Oreos, but a bit more 'sticky' tasting - like syrup. I've only ever tried the chocolate Birthday Cake Oreos, so these were different there as well, since the cookie was of the 'golden' Oreo variety. I really like the Golden Oreos, they taste salty and buttery, a bit like a shortbread.

So yes, it does mimic candy corn quite well - it tastes buttery, syrupy, with a bit of honey. I don't know if I would've guessed 'candy corn' straight away if somebody would've handed me this and asked me what flavor it was; but then again I don't think I'd properly ID candy corn if somebody blindfolded me and fed it to me, either. It is more about texture with candy corn than it is about flavor - but the flavor is nice, with a sweet taste more similar to honey or syrup than to just granulated sugar.

Unfortunately for my UK readers this one isn't readily available across the pond, it came back home with me from my trip to America last month - BUT, you can grab a pretty close alternative with the Birthday Cake Golden Oreos at StatesideCandyCo! I've ordered from these guys a couple of times, and they're always good - fast delivery, reasonable (for import) prices, and quite a sizable clearance section, which is my favorite part.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hotel Chocolate, Hallowen H-Box

Happy Halloween, everybody!

This is one of my favorite days of the year. It's got most everything I love: candy, horror, spooky paranormal stuff, dressing up, monsters, and candy.

I've always loved it - evidence here, portrait of the blogger as a young candy lover.

Not much has changed, except now I probably wouldn't have eaten the Sugar Daddy, as I have my adult teeth and have to adjust accordingly. Those Junior Mints would be long gone, though.

So, being that this IS my favorite day that isn't my birthday (which usually also includes a horror movie and lots of sugar) I tend to go crazy for anything that gets a Halloween theme. Food promotions that I'm usually cynical about, like using a Santa shaped mold and making the same old chocolate bar or slapping a beach ball on the 'Summer Edition' of orange Fanta, get a Halloween pass. Put a pumpkin on Babybel, and I'm 10x more interested in it, even though the contents is exactly the same. KitKat with a bat on it? Sold!

Sure, I much prefer when an actual new flavor is attempted, but I'm a lot easier going on package theming - provided I like the theme, and I do very much like skeletons and witch hats.

This Hotel Chocolat variety box did not disappoint in theming, with some good molds being used and a particularly well crafted skull... but what about flavors?

See what I mean, very nice packaging - black and bright purple are very nice 'witchy' Halloween colors, and we've got a good splash of red and orange, Halloween's other trademark shades coming up from the chocolates.

In case you don't know what flavors these are, let me give ya a rundown:
-Oozy Eyes of dark and white, filled with caramel...whatta fright!
-white and milk Praline Pumpkins, guaranteed to getya heart thumpin'
-Caramel chocolates, plain and salt, oh so good you'll join a cult
-Gianduja Bombes, that don't rhyme with tomb...
-Cherry Caramel Chocolate Skull, can't say that with your mouth full

So quite a bit of caramel & quite a bit of hazelnut paste. Kind of easy, especially in the UK market - not that there's anything wrong with that, sometimes the classics are just what you need.

Starting with the Oozy Eyes, they're nicely molded little spheres that look pretty eyeball-y, and they have a thin chocolate coating with a runny caramel center. It's plain caramel, not salted, so the white chocolate seems very sweet and the regular chocolate was a bit more balanced.

The Praline Pumpkins were really nice, probably my second favorite of the bunch since they tasted like a firm Nutella - the white chocolate was particularly good!

The caramel chocolate domes were basically just like the Oozy Eyes, except one was the salted caramel, which I've previously reviewed - to sum up, I think Hotel Chocolat's salted caramel is quite good, but it isn't salty enough to beat some of the more high priced varieties like Melt or Paul A. Young.

The gianduja bombes tasted a lot like the Praline Pumpkins, but just a bit more chocolate-than-hazelnut.

The 'Crystal Skull' was the final piece I tried, and there is only one in the box.

Mm! That is a great mold, I love that the jaw is finished and lax like that - just good, looks spooky, not just cute.

It is described as caramel chocolate with cherry crystals, but I was expecting it to be kind of plain milk chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I had a bite and found out that it actually was quite cherry flavored! The crystals were crunchy bits of something like sugar, flavored like cherry candy, and the chocolate was mild, sweet, and milky.

I'd happily buy one of these as a solo chocolate, but unfortunately you can only get it in the box. D'oh!

All in all, a good box that I really enjoyed sharing while watching a spooky movie last night, but I would've enjoyed it just a bit more if there had been some stronger/more creative flavors, like Pumpkin Spice Pralines, for instance - or even some of the chocolates that Hotel Chocolat already makes, such as Licorice Caramel or Apple Cider.

UK readers, I highly recommend grabbing one of these if you can once they go on sale (presumably) tomorrow, as they're all quality chocolates, if not a bit boring for something that is Halloween- themed, and the Crystal Skull is an interesting flavor combination that works really well.

Happy Halloween, pals! The spooky things might not stop, however - I did say all week, after all. Mua ah ah.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Peach Pocky

You're probably thinking right now, "Peach Pocky? Now, what could be so scary about that, on lo this Halloween review week? Inaccurate flavor, no vitamin C, the customs fees?"

You haven't seen the packaging yet. I suggest the faint of heart & any people currently eating peaches avert their eyes about now.

oh god no he's coming back this way its right behind us no

Oh, he just wants a kiss. Haha...okay...that's fine. Yes. If you're eating a peach right now, whatever you do, don't turn it around to make sure that it isn't making this face - I can assure you that it is, and you don't want to know about it.

Man, this thing is a grim spectre of a mascot. You're probably wondering what the hell it is, and I've only got a half-answer for you: Dwarf Encyclopedia. Apparently just a series of books, DVDs, and various characters goods in Japan that are all about these weird little imps that live in gardens and look like that. They're all disturbing blends of old men and vegetables, and after a little while they look less gross and more interesting. I'd never say they reach 'cute' levels, as many websites seem to suggest they do if you keep looking at them, but at least they stop being so ugly. I mean, I think they always stay pretty grotesque and I like Cubic Mouth. From an artistic point of view, they look very cool - but would I want to stare at one for very long? No, I'd definitely think it was going to blink into existence the second I looked away.

Anyway, that explains why this creepy peach man is on the front of this box of Pocky. So, how's it taste?

Peachy! If you've ever had Pocky before, you know the drill - at least half way. The biscuit is saltier than a cookie, but sweeter than a pretzel and has a satisfying crunch. I was shocked to find that I had yet to review a Pocky on this blog: the closest I came was this Lotte Toppo, which is sort of like reverse Pocky.

There is a difference between coating quality in the Japanese version and the Thai, Chinese, et cetera releases. The Japanese version are the originals, and have a higher quality 'chocolate' that doesn't feel so much like cheap fondant coating your mouth. It's more like actual chocolate.

So the peach flavor is translated really well, much better than I would've expected. It tastes sweet and tangy, a bit like peach yogurt. I've had peach hard candies before that were way too sweet and didn't have any of the tang you would expect from an actual bit of fruit - they tasted more like peach iced tea or canned peaches in syrup.

 This tastes most like peach yogurt, or like peaches themselves. There were only a few in the pack, and it was just one little envelope inside the box which made splitting them more of a challenge, but it was worth it.

Oh, and there was more of this freaky guy & his friends on the back.

So how many of these netherworld chimps can you spot? The answer: enough.

I had a really fun time with the packaging on these, and the Pockys themselves are super tasty. If I were younger I would've been going crazy for these little Dwarf Encyclopedia guys, they would've flipped all the right switches of creepy, foreign, and cute. Get your own pack at OyatsuCafe, and maybe keep the empty box in your garden to ward off...anything. You know, scarecrow style.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pumpkin Spice M&Ms

Happy Halloween...Week!

This week I've got some posts brewing in my cauldron that are all somewhat spooky, or at the very least autumnal....Will any of it be ghastly or bewitching? Boo knows!

First up, we've got these Pumpkin Spice M&Ms straight from the US of A. They're a Target exclusive in America, which isn't too surprising at Target often has the best Halloween aisle, the best limited editions, and over-all just the best place to shop in the US for general home goods that aren't total crap, but aren't that great either. There really isn't an equivalent place in the UK, I suppose it is a mildly upscale grocery/'big box' store, which you just don't seem to get here. Maybe a really big, really nice Sainsbury's? Anyway, Target rocks and if you visit America you should find your way to one immediately upon arrival.

Aw yeah, pumpkin spice M&Ms. When I spotted these at Target during my vacation I literally did a double take and tip-toed backwards to the display. Like all red-blooded patriots I'm crazy about pumpkin pie so I snatched 'em and brought 'em back home with me, so I'd always have a taste of A'murrrca's favorite seasonal treat. I guess the UK's is blackcurrant or something? That's a shame, eat pumpkin!

Funny enough, these M&Ms are pictured in a bloody skull bowl that I bought at the aforementioned Sainsburys!

They smelled like chocolate and cinnamon - it's interesting that the fine folks over at M&Ms headquarters decided to combine chocolate and pumpkin pie spice, when the natural assumption would be white chocolate and spice, as white chocolate lends itself very well to imitating other flavors. Like, the Candy Corn M&Ms (to be reviewed later this week) are white chocolate based, as were the Carrot Cake M&Ms. I guess pumpkin pie is very rarely coupled with chocolate -usually the only accompaniment is something light like vanilla ice cream - so I was surprised to see the pairing here.

The color combination is nice, Halloween-y but also just autumnal, so you could have these out past the 31st without being considered tacky. I guess black & orange after Halloween is like white after Labor Day.

They tasted really good - mostly chocolate with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Not too spicy and not at all 'hot spice', just warming, like pumpkin pie or a chai latte. It tastes mostly of chocolate, which I think is good. They're just as easy to eat as regular M&Ms, which isn't the case with many of the limited edition flavors!

I wish I could link you to a place to buy these in the UK - really, I do - because they are awesome.

There are a couple of places that stock some great American candy at decent prices (being an American, imports from my homeland always seem crazy priced, but hey, I get it)  but unfortunately none of them have these Pumpkin Spice M&Ms, probably because they are a Target exclusive.

 There are a few bags on Ebay from UK sellers, but since I haven't bought anything from any of them I wouldn't feel confident in linking to any specific one, but feel free to search them there and you'll find them for about £4.00. Worth it, I say! They'd be quite tasty in brownies, as well.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pumpkin Pudding KitKats

Mmhm, it's Halloween time! I absolutely love Halloween - and at this time of the month, it is completely appropriate to start obsessing over it. Of course, in my head I started much earlier, but now I can tell everyone how I feel about the season.

I love it! I'm changing my desktop wallpaper daily to be a new monster (today is...Pumpkinhead), watch horror movies and old Twilight Zones, and I'm going to finish reading The Shining and start Dr. Sleep. I love Halloween. It's the weather getting a bit chillier, the abundance of nice warm snacks & drinks, the flavors & smells of such drinks & food, and all the scary bits and horror.

One of the best parts is definitely pumpkin. Unfortunately, this has not caught on in the UK yet. I feel that it's getting there, but I think this island just ain't ready for this particular sweet-vegetable jelly. You can get a pumpkin cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery, which is grand - and Starbucks has finally got on the ball and released the Pumpkin Spice Latte in the UK this year and last...but there's lot of other bits that haven't been adopted. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin milk, pumpkin chocolates, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin bagels, or my other interests like pumpkin candles, pumpkin lotion...Nice, but all in America only, so far. D'oh!

Except - Japan. Japan is a marketplace that seems to love risk, and will give any flavor combination a shot, at least. So I wasn't surprised that there were pumpkin KitKats, and there have been tons. This post is about this year's KitKat though...Pumpkin Pudding KitKat.

Cute bag. Interesting choice to make it a green pumpkin, which definitely exists, but isn't your standard spooktacular seasonal spectre. Also, it is full of pumpkin pudding! Which looks like pumpkin mousse. It's just a very nice illustration, isn't it?

So, open 'em up.

 D'aw - the cuteness continues! I like the ghosts a lot. This is presented in the same format as many Japanese KitKats, which is a small 2 finger bar, about half the length of a regular KitKat & minus 2 fingers. So, tiny...but only 60 some calories because of that, so you take the good you take the bad and then you have 2 more KitKats.

Even before I opened up one of these individually wrapped bars, the bag smelled like pumpkin! Not spicy, but like sweet pumpkin - like pumpkin pudding, actually.

Mm! Pale orange. It smells so much like pumpkin - like pumpkin pie! Pumpkin pie isn't as spicy as other 'pumpkin' flavored foods, at least most pumpkin pies aren't - so it gives you a bit more of a pure idea of sweet pumpkin.

These taste like pumpkin, like pureed and sweetened pumpkin with white chocolate - and a bit of cinnamon. So there is a touch of spice to the sweet, but that's definitely taking a back seat. If you can picture eating a spoonful of canned pumpkin with quite a bit of white chocolate, you're about on the right track - and it is nice.

These were really delicious, and I can picture them going really well with some milky tea or even a pumpkin spice latte.

 Grab them from OyatsuCafe and get it in time for Halloween!...or Autumn, at the very least.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Caramel Apple Milky Way

My second review after coming back from America, and boy are my wings tired - as they were never meant to type, that is.

So, I'm going from fancy-schmancy chocolate to the lowest of the low - that's right, Milky Ways!

I have no love for Milky Ways, whether they're being called 'Mars' or not. They're just not my style - fluffy nougat and caramel need to be broken up with peanuts - ergo, Snickers, or something...anything other than the dull, chewy sweetness of caramel and nougat.

So, I bought these for the novelty - they were actually my 'office treat', since it is customary in my office to bring back treats after you've been on holiday. I assumed I wasn't going to like them that much, so I figured no skin off my nose if they were all eaten by my co-workers.

So, I brought them in, opened them up, snatched up 4 to take home to try in my own sweet time, and came back to the office within 24 hours to find the remaining 36 bars completely gone. So, yes, they were a big hit.

I still hadn't tried one, and was really just putting it off - even after my husband raved about them, as well. There's just something so boring about Milky Ways, even when you're telling me that they're apple flavored. I just close my eyes and picture mushing up nougat and caramel for a minute and I feel like I've eaten it already.

Also, artifical apple flavor isn't really my bag. When I was in middle school these things were absolute gold for my classmates - kind of like cough syrup is these days - but I never got into them. I would've much rather had one of those vanilla flavored Tootsie Midges, or better still, any candy not made by the Tootsie company. I just think apple flavored things taste a bit like the way potpourri smells.

So, finally I decided to try one of the two Milky Ways that I had left at home - and brother, was I wrong about everything.

When unwrapped, I was quite surprised. The apple smell was subtle, and not at all as tart or artificial as I thought it would be. Sure, it was fake - it is apple chocolate, after all - but it didn't smell unlike a real apple, so that's something! Also, it was distinctly a 'red' apple as opposed to a Granny Smith, which is much more sour and what apple flavored candy often tastes like.

They tasted just like red caramel apples, it was nuts. Particularly, it was like a caramel apple with chocolate chips across it - one of those 'gourmet apples' that are completely over the top.

Sure, the texture was still like Marshmallow Fluff and sticky caramel, but this time it just kind of worked - mostly because there was an interesting and well-done flavor to it, as well. The main problem for me with Milky Ways is the taste - its like a marshmallow, just plainly 'sweet'. By adding a pretty natural, and subtle apple flavor they elevated themselves by about 10 plateaus. I wonder what other flavors would work with a Milky Way?...And I wonder if the UK will ever seen interesting variations on the Mars bar - because that all caramel one was quite a lame effort comparatively speaking!

Funny enough, I couldn't find them at any of the main American import webshops in the UK, but there are a few sellers on Ebay.

Also, be on the lookout for an opportunity to try one of these, along with tons of other snacks from li'l ol' me...Keep your eyes on my brand new Facebook page for more details this weekend.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Matcha Snack Round-Up

This is a Matcha...Snack...Round U-U-U-UP!

First off, I've got a couple of drinks from OyatsuCafe's illustrious Stick Menu, this time the two matcha lattes to follow my earlier review of the hot chocolate.

And hey, what better to go with matcha lattes than matcha biscuits? Ergo, Matcha...Snack...Round U-U-U-UP!

My husband so graciously lent his palette to test these with me, and we decided we'd try them cold. The instructions to prepare these as cold drinks are a bit strange - you add a very small amount of water (80ml) and 4-5 ice cubes, which will promptly kinda melt in the boiling water and give you the rest of your liquid. It makes sense, of course, but it just seemed strange considering that there are drink powders out there in the world that you mix with cold milk or water. Nesquik, Crystal Light, et cetera...but hey, it worked - we got cold & decently sized drinks, even though I was a bit apprehensive.

The powders looked exactly the same, which is kind of what I assumed was going to happen. One looks a bit darker just because of the lighting - believe me, they're exactly the same.

So, I boiled 80ml of water and added 5 ice cubes to each.

This is the Blendy,

and this is the Maxim. Not much of a difference, but while I was mixing them I did notice that the Maxim seemed just a little bit frothier.

Unfortunately, the smell of these wasn't too pleasant - they kind of smelled like cat food. Tuna, to be specific. I was surprised, because I usually really like green tea and matcha lattes - iced or warm. I've had quite a few, and never have they had a 'fishy' smell like the two of these did.

Now, the taste was as expected - milky, a bit sweet, and just a touch grassy. I was perfectly happy with the flavor, but the smell was a bit overpowering and kind of took away from the whole drink. They both smelled a bit, too - so I assume it wasn't an issue of being out-of-date, I think the instant matcha lattes just might have a bit of a stink. Which really stinks, because they taste just fine!

I did a spot of research on this, as I was really taken aback because I like green tea and matcha lattes quite a bit and never smelled fish - turns out cheaper matcha can occasionally taste bitter or fishy - and even more interesting than that, if you use water that is too hot, it can ruin the taste a bit. So, I think there's a chance that the instructions in Japanese say 'hot, not boiling water', and I just used my kettle and basically boiling water. Interesting! I would've liked to experiment a bit more, but both packets are gone.

They had barely any difference in taste, so I'd suggest just going with the cheaper one (Blendy) and perhaps not using boiling water. Maybe it is also a bit nicer warm? The only thing that was off was the smell, really - it tasted quite nice still. I would say the smell is a bit of deal breaker for me though - and it could've been my own fault that it went that way (too hot of water) but I'm not sure I would try it again. Now, I would be tempted by these, as they require no heating whatsoever - couldn't mess that up!

 Now, onto the crispity, crunchity biscuit portion of the Matcha Round U-U-U-UP!

I've got two sets of matcha biscuits here, Alfort Matcha Biscuits & Petit Choco Chip Matcha Cookies, and they're both made by Bourbon. The Alfort brand is the more premium brand, while the Petit line is more budget friendly. I seem to recollect seeing tons of these in Japan for something like 100 yen. Suppose it would be like a Custard Cream versus a Viennese Melt, both made by Fox's. It's cool to see that in action elsewhere.

The Alfort biscuits are topped with matcha chocolate and have a cool ship printed on top, while the petits are just cute, tiny versions of chocolate chip cookies (but green) - complete with a bit more color at the edges, like they've been home baked! Very cute.

That's the thing that will really stick out about these biscuits - they are teeny tiny. Take a look at this comparison shot in my mitt:

I'm no good at basketball because I can barely palm a ball (and, of course, poor hand eye coordination, lack of height, asthma, general absence of athleticism & very little competitive spirit) so it isn't like I've got big monster hands. These are just tiny li'l cookies.

They were incredibly tasty, though! The Alfort particularly had high quality matcha chocolate topping, and a oat-y sort of not-too-sweet biscuit base. Reminded me of a digestive, but with green tea flavored chocolate rather than milk chocolate - and also absolutely bitsy and adorable. The only problem with them being so small is that it is quite difficult to dunk them in anything, but it can be done...just carefully. The matcha chocolate was sweet, creamy, and tasted like green tea in that way that only chocolate green tea products do. If you have any love in your heart for matcha flavors or green tea, you'd love this.

The Petits were a bit more grassy and less sweet, but they had a very satisfying crunch and a buttery taste that only ever seems to be present in chocolate (or 'choco') chip cookies. The combination of matcha, plain chocolate, and butter was really nice, and a bit more exotic than the matcha chocolate covered variety. These were even harder to dunk though, since they're smaller and round, so I kept thinking how nice it would be to just dump the entire packet into a bowl and cover it in milk, like the World's Most Indulgent Cereal. Or as I like to call it, Cookie Soup: Patent Pending since I was 9 years old.

Which ones would I buy again? Quite hard to pick! I'd say that the Alfort were the nicer ones, the ones I'd be most likely to eat on a day-to-day basis, but the Petit have such a thick, buttery crunch that really reminded me of something from my childhood. Maybe I'd get Petit again in another flavor, as I feel that the green tea in those was a bit 'muskier' than I prefer - the Alfort had a nice, delicately grassy and sweet taste by contrast. So, Alfort for the Matcha, and Petit for some other time & some other flavor.
(OyatsuCafe so kindly provided me with some products for review, but all opinions are just my own!)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Koume Umeboshi Gummy

It's no secret I love Japanese candy - all the evidence is right here on the blog in my new Japanese category.

This gummy marks my 20th Japanese candy review - that is very nearly catching up to UK reviews - the country I actually live in. Wowza.

The only thing that keeps me from going absolutely apenuts on Japanese candy is that so much of it is gummy - don't get me wrong, if you give me a gummy I will gladly eat it - but I'll be thinking of chocolate or cookies.

Fact is, there are tons of different chips, chocolate, and biscuits in Japan, they're just the hardest things to ship and therefore you won't necessarily find them with as much ease as you'll find a bag of gummies. That's fine; all the more reason to go to Japan.

So, this particular gummy is Umeboshi flavored, by Koume. Umeboshi is a pickled, sour plum and it is very popular in Japan - as far as I know it is not considered a sweet, but is eaten regularly with rice and as a healthy accompaniment to lunch. I love pickled food, but alongside savory dishes - then again, I quite like sour candy (even as an adult) and can see where pickles have a natural sweetness to them. It might be a matter of taste, though!

With all that in mind, I was quite looking forward to trying this sweet & sour gummy. The packaging is very charming, with a sort-of classic illustration of a blushing girl - definitely makes me think of traditional Japan, which makes sense as umeboshi is a very traditional Japanese flavor.

Opening the package, I was surprised that it smelled like fresh cut grass. A nice smell, but not one I'd immediately associate with either candy, pickles, or plums. Then again, I don't go around smelling plums. Pickles & candy, on the other hand...

They're cute little bits, about thumb-sized, kinda wrinkly (like the actual umeboshi) and covered in sanding sugar (unlike a real umeboshi).

The texture was very good - this is a bouncy kind of gummy, not too chewy but also not marshmallow-y soft & powdery. The sugar was really fine, and just sort of dissipated into sweetness once it was in my mouth.

The first taste is sugar with a spicy, kind of cinnamon background, and then it get sour for awhile - but a natural kind of sour, like a citrus fruit or a pickle - and then it gets spicy again.

In the end, the flavor really reminded me of persimmons. I grew up in Indiana, one of the few places where saying something tastes like a persimmon might actually mean something to somebody, so let me explain a bit. Persimmon tastes like spicy & sweet fruit, sort of like a 'Autumn' candle, or something. They're not too strongly flavored, but they're very distinctively spicy to me. It is a very interesting taste, especially with this gummy that has a sour break in between two periods of spicy sweetness.

If you've tasted and enjoyed persimmons, or even just the idea of a sweet&spicy/sour/sweet&spicy candy sounds interesting to you, these definitely are worth a go. I really want to try an actual umeboshi now - and it's rare that a candy encourages me to try a new kind of fruit...usually it just reminds me how bad real food is compared to artificial flavoring.

(OyatsuCafe so kindly provided me with some products for review, but all opinions are just my own!)