Friday, April 07, 2017

Nature's Bakery

Yup, more reviews of quasi-healthy snack bars.  This is a big market, as I guess there are lots of folks like myself who are always looking for a convenient snack to stash in our bags.

Nature's Bakery is another such manufacturer.  They make Fig Bars (aka, fancy Fig Newtons) and uh, healthy brownies.  They are all non-GMO, vegan, and kosher. Some of the fig bars are also gluten-free, and they also just came out with an organic line.  Pretty standard mantra these days.

I've tried the Fig Bars and the Brownies, and both were just too healthy for me.

Stone Ground Wheat Fig Bars

"To give you the fuel you need to help power life's great journeys. Oh yeah, and to make it - and your journeys - jam-packed with flavor. With Mother Nature's blessing, we've created perfect harmony among some of her very best handiwork, holding freshness ever sacred. Come explore our tasty, nutritious family of Stone Ground Whole Wheat Fig Bars."
Nature's Bakery makes a line of "Fig Bars", aka, fancy Fig Newton.  They are available in a slew of flavors in addition to standard fig, such as raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, mango, lemon, even apple cinnamon, peach apricot, and pumpkin spice.  They also make several gluten-free varieties.

When I say "fancy" Fig Newton, I mean ones where the ingredient quality and nutrition are taken into careful consideration.  The outer wrapping is a hearty stone ground whole wheat.  The bars are made with brown rice syrup and cane syrup rather than high fructose corn syrup, they are vegan and soy free, and of course are non-GMO.

I'm not sure where I picked up a package of these, I think on a flight at some point?
Raspberry Fig Bar.
"Fueling sweet moments like mastering the two-wheeler—and being the dad behind it all—is our passion. Our raspberry fig bar is a crowd favorite, no matter who’s in the crowd."

The bars are packaged two to a pack, each one larger than a classic Fig Newton, but smaller than something like a Nutrigrain bar.  Together, the two would make up a normal size bar.

It reminded me of a cross between a Nutrigrain and a Fig Newton.  The outer layer was really hearty tasting, like a Nutrigrain, not sweet like a Fig Newton.  As a result, it seemed far more like a breakfast bar than a cookie.

The filling was plentiful, a bit gritty from the fig, but not really my thing.  I love fresh figs, but when put into bar form, I rarely like figs for some reason.  I didn't taste much raspberry.

If you like Fig Newtons, and you wanted a healthier version, I'm sure these were good, but they really weren't my thing.  Ojan gladly took them off my hands.

Double Chocolate Brownies

"Our goal was to create a simple, baked chocolate snack bar made with thoughtful ingredients that you could enjoy anytime, anywhere. You get double the goodness in each bite, a soft baked outside and light chocolate center. So, when you're on-the-go and need a quick-fix to conquer that chocolate craving, tear open a pack to get back on track."
Next up, I tried the brownies.  Like the fig bars, they come in a 2-pack with two small brownies, each 90 calories each.  "Healthy" brownies, made with whole grains and dates, and no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, no dairy, no soy, no cholesterol, no trans fats ...

And ... they taste it.

The "double chocolate" brownies come in 4 flavors: raspberry, blueberry, mint, and chocolate (hmm, is a chocolate double chocolate brownie a triple chocolate brownie?)  The double chocolate name seems to refer to the fact that they have both cocoa powder and cocoa butter in them.
Chocolate Double Chocolate Brownie.
"Sometimes life’s everyday simple pleasures can be the most fulfilling.  Feed your craving before enjoying time with your favorite version of fun.  You’re worth it."

I started with the "chocolate double chocolate" flavor.

It was a dense bar that tasted more like a nutrition bar than a brownie.  It was chewy.  The date flavor was just too strong to convince me it was anything but a healthy product.  Did not like.
Mint Double Chocolate.
"Backpack.  Check.  Gear.  Check.  Energy?  You do now.  A better-for-you chocolate snack to help power your adventure.  Where ever the journey takes you."

After the failure of the chocolate double chocolate, I went for mint, hoping that the mint would help save the too healthy taste.

It didn't.  This one was even worse.  It was dry and bitter, and the overwhelming flavor was the "mint", except that it was a very artificial awful tasting mint.  I couldn't even take a second bite of this one.

I have no idea why these market the mint flavor for hikers (and even more strangely, the raspberry for morning workouts, and the blueberry for afternoon).
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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Blue Bunny / Blue Ribbon Classics Ice Cream

Blue Bunny, and Blue Ribbon Classics, are two ice cream/frozen novelty lines owed by Wells Enterprises.  Wells is the largest family-owned ice cream manufacturer in the US, and third largest US producer (after the Nestlé and Unilever conglomerates).  They have a few other product lines as well, including Bomb Pop popsicles, but, the ice cream was certainly the item that caught my eye.

The story goes that they started in 1925 by Fred. H. Wells Jr, a milk route operator, who started making ice cream, but was then bought out 3 years later.  But 7 years after that, he tried again, and let the product get named through a "Name That Ice Cream" contest (so says Wikipedia ...  The more you know!) Anyway, many other family members came along, took over, expanded production, etc, etc.  It was still mostly regional until 1992 when they started expanding nationally, and well, the rest is history?

Now they make a large array of ice cream flavors and treats.  Unlike many "frozen novelties", even the novelty items are made with actual ice cream, not frozen dairy products.  Blue Bunny is the flagship line, and Blue Ribbon Classics is the lower end.  I've tried products from both lines, and, I assure you, the difference is noticeable.

Blue Bunny

"Blue Bunny, the flagship brand of Wells Enterprises, Inc., includes a delicious variety of ice cream, frozen desserts, and frozen novelties, Wells is proud to produce, market, and sell Blue Bunny branded products across the United States in places like your grocer's freezer, your favorite restaurant, your corner convenience store, on ice cream trucks and in event venues. Today more than 400 ice cream treats are produced under the Blue Bunny brand name."
Blue Bunny makes a lot of ice cream products, as, in, >400.  They offer a wide assortment of flavors of ice cream sold in tubs, pints, and personal cups, with fun names, like "Peanut Butter Party" rather than just "Peanut Butter Cup", and also have frozen yogurt, low-fat, and lower sugar options.

The line of novelties is particularly impressive, ranging from a large variety of packaged ice cream cones, ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, all sorts of branded items with gumball eyes (Batman, Tweety, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Powerfuff Girls, Pink Panther, Minions, Bugs Bunny, Bratz), and "Bunny Snacks", which are chocolate coated ice cream bites in a bunch of flavors.

I was only able to try one type of novelty, but, I enjoyed it far more than comparable products from competitors.

Chips Galore! Sandwich.
"Creamy vanilla flavored ice cream layered between two chocolate chip cookies rolled in mini chocolate chips."

Since I don't really like cookies, I can't say that I was very excited about an ice cream sandwich.  An improvement on just a cookie, for sure, but, not really my dessert nor ice cream of choice.

However, I was visiting another Google office, and they had an ice cream freezer, with rather meager offerings.  This was the best of the bunch, so, I went for it.

My first bite confirmed what I expected.  It wasn't great.  The cookies were soggy, and certainly nothing like homemade.  They were like large size Chips Ahoy.  The ice cream wasn't particularly creamy, nor vanilla-y.  Even when I let it melt, it never got particularly creamy.

But as I ate more, I did like the plentiful little chocolate chips around the outside though, and quickly set about licking all the little chips off.  And then biting a little cookie off.  And them more ice cream.  Before I knew it, I had finished nearly the entire thing, a bit remarkable given its size and the fact that I didn't actually like it very much.

This was a case of the whole being greater than sum of the parts.  Were the cookies good?  No.  Was the ice cream good?  No.  But somehow, it all worked together.

I wouldn't rush out to get another, but, I did enjoy it.

Update: A year or so later, when visiting the same office, I had another.  I think I liked it even more, and this time, the ice cream did seem to melt a bit more nicely.  Now, I'd gladly get another!

Blue Ribbon Classics

"Wells turns everyday moments into special celebrations with the classic flavors, generous offerings, and surprising value of Blue Ribbon Classics.
Made for family and fun, it’s the ice cream that appeals to everyone."
The lower end line made by Wells is "Blue Ribbon Classics".  They too offer ice cream/frozen yogurt/sherbet in tubs, ice cream cones and bars, and popsicles, but have only about 50 products total, and represent more, well, "classics".  No bubble gum eyes, or co-branding, here.

I tried several of these as well, and, it was clear the ice cream quality was lower than Blue Bunny.
Ice Cream Freezer!
Yes, I was of course visiting another office, and found another ice cream freezer.

The first few days I went for the high end Three Twins items, but, eventually, I decided to try the Blue Ribbon classics, mostly for research sake.
Orange Dream Bar.
"Vanilla flavored reduced fat ice cream in an orange sherbet shell. It's a dream!"

One day, I wanted something less decadent.  In full disclosure, this is because I stumbled upon the ice cream freezer after already having soft serve ice cream at lunch.  And uh, a second soft serve sundae a little later.  So I didn't want to go all out and get another huge ice cream.  Hence, the reasonable choice, the Orange Dream Bar.

Reduced fat ice cream and sherbet made this a pretty light offering, only 90 calories for the bar.  But, they also made it just not very interesting.  The orange sherbet was pretty icy and a very thick layer, and the ice cream wasn't very creamy.

I guess if you like a classic orange creamsicle this was fine, but, I really wanted it to be more like a Pine-Lime Splice, the only "lighter" ice cream novelty I really ever enjoy ...

[ No Photo ]
Sundae Cone.

"Creamy vanilla flavored reduced fat ice cream dipped in chocolate flavored coating, topped with peanuts and cone pieces, all inside a crunchy sugar cone. One for everyone!"

Not sure where my photo went of this one, but, there isn't much to say.  It was a pretty standard packaged sundae cone.  No better nor worse than any other.
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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Butterscotch Pudding: Will it Waffle?

In my quest to waffle anything and everything, sometimes I make some ... interesting choices.  Like trying to waffle one of my favorite desserts: butterscotch pudding.

As you can guess, the answer to Butterscotch Pudding: Will it Waffle? is a resounding no, but that doesn't mean I didn't still get something tasty to eat out of it!
The Original: Butterscotch Pudding.
The original was classic butterscotch pudding.  Real butterscotch pudding.  Not the kind made with "butterscotch morsels".  The real stuff.  The kind that is the labor of love.  The kind that takes serious minding on the stove.  Egg yolks, cream, butter, brown sugar, cornstarch, uh, whiskey ...

I know real butterscotch pudding when I taste it.  My grandmother is "famous" for her butterscotch pie, thick, legit butterscotch pudding, topped with lightly toasted meringue.  I grew up with that as my reference point for butterscotch pudding, and I never understand how others can eat plastic-y, fake, "butterscotch", and think it is butterscotch.

But, as I don't like meringue, I always thought the pie was overkill.  I mean, I like a good pie crust, but, really, I just wanted a big bowl of the filling, topped with some whipped cream.  I learned to make it several years ago, and now, every holiday season, I help my mom make the butterscotch, following my grandmother's recipe.  Ours might not be quite as good as hers, but, I think we have it down.  One time though, I discovered something.  I've always had the butterscotch pudding chilled and set, in the pie.  When making it myself, I had the pleasure of licking the bowl and spoons as I  cleaned up.  The pudding was still warm.  And it was wonderful.  Warm butterscotch pudding is absolutely amazing, I don't know why we normally have it chilled.

Anyway.  I had a bunch of fantastic butterscotch pudding.  It was delicious, deep real butterscotch flavor, thick set.  I had a couple little cups like a normal person, but couldn't help but ponder ... will it waffle?
Uh, cooking?
So, into the waffle iron I put several spoonfuls.  It instantly splattered and started bubbling away.  It was thick, but thinned instantly as it warmed.  Uh-oh.

It ... did not waffle.  I didn't crust it, and I heated up something that turns more runny when it is warmed up.  I'm not sure what I was thinking, really.

I had a mess on my hands, and it was clear that it wasn't ever going to take shape, nor be easy to remove.  Doh.

So I grabbed chopsticks, and just started extracting little bits.  It might have been a mess, but, the warm pudding was still delicious.  As it slowly cooled, it thickened back up again, and became easier to extract.

So, a waffle I did not have, but I still managed to eat every last bit, warm and delicious, uh, direct from my waffle iron.
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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Travelin' Tuesday: Lisbon, the master post

Yup, I went to Portugal for the first time, back in September.  I stayed primarily in Lisbon, although I ventured slightly further away for two days to Cascais.

I didn't pick Lisbon for tourism, and certainly not food the cuisine, I was there for a conference.  As such, my dining was mostly limited to large groups, although I did explore the bakeries a bit on my own.  While the majority of the dining was very lackluster, there were two strong points, that I still think back on and start to drool.
The reason to go to Lisbon: Life changing egg tarts.

Bakeries / Treats

  • Go to Pastéis de Belém. That is all.
  • Really good froyo, with a unique fun topping I can't stop thinking about, Weeel.
  • A Padaria Portuguesa, where I discover just how good Pão de Deus can be! Soft, fluffy, slightly sweet, pull apart bread with a delicious topping ... swoon.
  • Sacolinha, a bakery chain in Portugal.  I got to try some unknown items, but not were awesome.
  • Soft serve Cornetto machine?!!
Breads & Spreads at Largo.

Restaurants

  • Ground Burger: Great pedigree, but the restaurant crumpled under our group size.
  • More large group dining at Largo. Meh. The bread and spread were good.
  • Charming setting, not touristy, but, mediocre group dinner at As Salgadeiras.  
  • Of course I went to McDonald's.  Had to check out the local specialties! 
Breakfast Feast @ Sheraton, Cascais.

Hotels

  • Lobby Bistro:  large, but highly mediocre, breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Lisboa.
  • A highly unimpressive club lounge, Sheraton Lisboa.
  • Breakfast buffet at Glass, Sheraton, Cascais. Finally, an excellent breakfast buffet! Extensive selection, quality, and tasty!
Meal on TAP Portugal.

Airports / Flights

  • A tale of two Pão de Deus in the Lisbon airport.
  • TAP Airlines: The sandwich "snack" didn't impress, but the hot meal wasn't awful (although still economy dining). 

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Scones from Panera Bread

Update Review, September 2016

Another year, more Panera scones.  I still like the wild blueberry.  You can start with my earlier reviews for more context.
Wild Blueberry Scone. $2.69.
This year, I played it safe, and got the some scone as I did last year: Wild Blueberry.  I actually went to Panera intending to try the Triple Berry scone, with its dried strawberries and raspberry chips in addition to blueberries, plus an icing glaze, but, alas, it was discontinued, so, the single berry, no glaze option was all I had.

It was pretty much exactly what I remembered.  More like a shortcake biscuit than a breakfast scone, kinda sweet, a tiny bit of tang.  It crumbled nicely, like a bread or cake, not making a mess.  The little wild blueberries were good, but, I really wished they were bigger.

Overall, it was again good, for a shortcake biscuit, but not quite right for breakfast.  I'd get it again if I was in the mood for this kind of item.

Update Review, October 2015

If you didn't read my original Panera scones review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.   See "Original Review, September 2014" below.

The short version: I've never loved their scones, but finally found one that is decent enough.
Wild Blueberry Scone.  $2.59.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone overfilled with plump, wild blueberries."

This is a hard-style scone, but somewhat cakey, more like a shortcake biscuit. It had a decent tang to it, not as much as I wanted, but at least there was some flavor in the base.  Studded with little blueberries, which provided decent pops of flavor.  They are tiny wild blueberries though, not big, bursting with flavor berries, which I'd prefer.

It isn't quite what I want in a breakfast scone, but actually would be quite good with whipped cream and some fruit, turned into a shortcake.  Or perhaps just with clotted cream and jam, for tea time?  But on its own, it falls a bit short.

Original Review, September 2014

Panera likely isn't novel to you.  As a chain, their stores exist all over the country.  I've reviewed them before, for their drinks (not bad!), bagels (I love their cream cheese!), and muffins (not good) .

I'm skipping all the generic details in this review, and only commenting on the specifics of their scones.  Because, even though I didn't like the muffins, I love my baked goods!
Strawberries & Cream Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone made with dried infused strawberries and white chocolate chips."

After failing to be impressed with the muffins at Panera, I decided to try my luck with a scone instead.  They had several varieties, but the strawberry & cream caught my eye.

The description didn't really seem accurate.  I didn't find any white chocolate chips in it, anywhere.  Nor any consistency changes that it could have been a melted chip.  I'm very puzzled by the description.

The strawberries also didn't seem dried.  They came as decently sized, moist, chunks.  They were quite flavorful and good.

The scone base was crumbly but moist.  It was clearly cream based.  Pretty good flavor.

On top was a lot of glaze.  It didn't seem to have any particular flavor other than sweet.  Perhaps lemon?

Overall, this was a very sweet product.  I would have liked a black coffee with it, rather than the tea I was drinking.  I thought tea was the right pairing for a scone, but in this case, it was just too sweet and needed something bitter to balance it.

Not a mind blowing scone, but it was enjoyable.  Not sure if I'd get one again, but it wasn't bad.  A decent price for an insanely large scone.
Cinnamon Crunch Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, soft and tender cream-based scone flavored with cinnamon chips and finished with a cinnamon crunch and white icing glaze."

The next time I wound up at Panera, I decided to try another scone, since the previous scone had been far better than the muffins I'd tried, and I wanted a sweet, bready breakfast item.  This time, a new seasonal option jumped out, the cinnamon crunch scone.  It sounded like a cross between a scone and a cinnamon roll.  I've been on a cinnamon roll kick lately, so it sounded intriguing.

Unfortunately, the scone sounded much better than it actually was.  The texture was right, with a good crumbliness to it, not dried out. But the base didn't really have much flavor.  I always love a bit of a tang to my scone.  There were plenty of little tiny cinnamon chips throughout, which I thought would give it a ton of flavor, but really didn't.  The cinnamon aroma was stronger than the taste.  On top was an unremarkable sweet glaze.  I appreciated that part, as I was really in the mood for sweet.

I also really wanted it warmed up, and wish Panera offered their goods that way (besides just using the microwave).  Warm muffins, scones, etc are always just soo much better!  I brought home the part I didn't finish and heated it up in the toaster oven, and indeed it was better that way.

Overall, it was quite unremarkable.  No bad, but not good.  I wouldn't get another.  Perhaps my problem is that I went into it wanting it to be more like a cinnamon roll, I wanted more cinnamon flavor, more icing, more ... something.  (Panera does make a cinnamon roll, but it really didn't look great).

Like most of Panera's food, the nutrition stats shock me.  Yes, it was a large scone, but 550 calories? 23g fat?  And, I guess due to the glaze, 41g sugar?  Wow.  I don't care that much about nutrition stats these days, and only noticed it because the signs in Panera all prominently display these details, but certainly not worth it.

The price of $2.49 however was fine for a huge scone.
Caramel Apple Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone with dried cinnamon apples and caramel chips, topped with a thumbprint of apple filling and caramel icing."

And finally, another visit to Panera, another scone.

As I stared at the rows of pastries, a helpful employee came bouncing up.  "Do you like apple pie?", she asked.  Now, this is a hard question.  In the realm of pies, apple is pretty low on my list.  But, a nice, flaky double crust apple pie, served hot, with melted cheese (don't ask, its a New England thing) and a scoop of ice cream can be pretty good.  But a generic apple pie?  Meh.  Although, still a pie.  With all these thoughts running through my head, I simply said "Sure?" And she eagerly went on to tell me all about the latest seasonal offering, the caramel apple scone.  She said it was the absolute best item they had, and, just like an apple pie.

Since I was being indecisive anyway, I went for it.

The scone base had a slight tang to it, but it was minimal.  There was a slight taste of cinnamon, but again, minimal.  It seemed dry and almost stale.  The bottom was a bit burnt.  So far, not much of a foundation to build on.

Throughout the scone were little bits of caramelized apple.  They were chewy and sweet, which was kinda nice.  I never discovered the promised caramel chips, which reminded me of the strawberry and cream scone, where I never found any promised white chocolate chips.  On top was a sweet glaze, not particularly interesting, but, it was sweet, and did give a bit of flavor.  I guess this was the "caramel icing".

In the center was apple filling, the part that was supposed to make it amazing, and, "exactly like an apple pie".  The filling was awful.  It was just goo.  Mushy little bits of apple, in a very, very thick goo.  A spiced goo, but the spicing, particularly the nutmeg, was just too strong.  Also, why on earth did the scone have a bunch of goo in it?  Doesn't this sort of filling belong in a danish, not a scone?

Anyway, the helpful employee also told me that it was best to stick it in the microwave to warm it up first.  Now, you know me.  I don't use microwaves for anything but popcorn.  And certainly not for baked goods.  I wasn't intending to take her suggestion, but after not really caring for it at room temperature, I figured it wouldn't hurt.  So, I did it (also, yes, every Panera has a microwave, which I've always thought was really strange.  They really seem to be there just so customers can heat up their baked goods.  Shutter.)

It was worse warmed up.  Yes, it was more moist and not dried out at least.  And yes, it was more like a pie I guess.  But the icing just melted away.  And the almost-pleasant chewy bits were now soft.  I certainly preferred it at room temperature.  Warm like this, it reminded me of airplane food.

It wasn't the worst scone I've ever encountered, but it certainly wasn't good, not a good way to spend 450 calories, or $2.49, and I won't be getting another.
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