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).

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.

Update review (June 2017): I had another, at a company picnic.  It was ... well, what it was.  The ice cream was better than average ice cream novelties actually, but wasn't particularly good.  The cone was a generic sugar cone, but at least it wasn't soggy.  The chocolate coating was good, but the nuts actually had a hint of staleness to them.  So, better than average I suppose, but still just a packaged sundae cone.

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.

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.


  • 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.


  • 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).