Monday, April 29, 2013

Round 4: Häagen-Dazs Class of 2013

For the past few years Häagen-Dazs has only introduced new ice cream products as Limited Edition flavors. Their usage of the term "limited" is liberal considering some of these flavors have been featured for multiple years and a few have graduated to being members of the Häagen-Dazs canon (currently, those include Blueberry Crumble and Dark Chocolate). Anything to move product, I suppose. This year, two of the four limited edition flavors are new. I was delighted to snatch them up with the hope of erasing the unfortunate experience of eating three members of the new Häagen-Dazs Gelato collection. (Yuck.) Onto better things: the new flavors!

Peanut Butter Pie - peanut butter ice cream with a peanut butter swirl and chocolate cookie pieces
I come from the land of peanuts. They are one of Virginia's major agricultural products. It is inconceivable for me to imagine a meal at Virginia Diner--the combination plate with pulled pork BBQ and Virginia ham, collards and fried apples, biscuits, plus Waldorf salad and an extra side of carrot soufflé, plus tasting off of everyone else's plate--that didn't end with a slice of their famous Peanut Pie.

For the sake of transparency, I should mention that peanut butter has never been a flavor I've had strong feelings about as a dessert. Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter is the only peanut butter ice cream that I've purchased twice, though maybe not even thrice. So, of anyone, Häagen-Dazs had the best chance of winning me over.

My first bites proved promising. There was subtlety to the peanut butter ice cream and the chocolate cookie pieces. But once my taste buds met with the gloop of peanut butter swirl in the pint's middle, it was the only flavor I could taste. The flavor wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly dessert-y unless you enjoy eating sugary peanut butter by the spoonful to get your sweet fix. (I do not, but I realize others do.) Happily, the pint ended devoid of peanut butter swirl, reminding me of the subtle flavor I enjoyed when I first cracked the lid.

Bourbon Pecan Praline - bourbon ice cream with a brown sugar bourbon swirl and praline pecans
I had high hopes for this, though in retrospect I'm not sure why. My consumption of alcohol is limited to chicken wing sauces that have been hitting the sauce. The flavor was boozy, sickly sweet and gross. It tasted how inner-city liquor stores smell, the type where pocket rockets are the best sellers. I forced myself to take more bites when I really wanted it to end. When I revisited the pint for a second tasting, the odor was enough to drive me away.

I consulted the roommates on whether the bourbon flavor was genuine or artificial. Mike said the taste was completely artificial, "like someone tried to make bourbon with sugar." Makes sense: bourbon is nowhere to be found in the ingredient list. Mike did not take a second bite. As for Boren and Jamie, they enjoyed the flavor saying it tasted like bourbon, though with a "candied" flavor. They were pleased to be offered the remainder of the pint.

Luckily, Häagen-Dazs also has two other ways of getting one's pecan fix:  Butter Pecan and Pralines & Cream (a Walgreen's exclusive flavor).

This year, there are two other Limited Edition flavors available who are ineligible to compete in the tournament because they were members of the Häagen-Dazs class of 2012: Coconut Macaroon (Best of 2012! Amazing!) and Salted Caramel Truffle (Less so!). Check them out if you didn't last year.


This round's winner: Peanut Butter Pie

The AICM (April Ice Cream Madness) Tournament continues with the Championship Round...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Round 3: Ben & Jerry's New Greek Frozen Yogurt Flavors

Though Ben & Jerry's knows how to bring on
the summer, it does not how to spell "passion fruit."
Last year, when Ben & Jerry's unveiled their new froyo product line, I scoffed. I scoffed and I scoffed until I actually tasted it. Then I shut up. And while I haven't purchased any of the products since my original tasting, I didn't hesitate in buying two of this year's new flavors.

Liz Lemon - Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt with a Blueberry Lavender Swirl
No false modesty here: it was hilarious when I griped about the hype surrounding the unveiling of a "new flavor" they "created" that was "inspired" by 30 Rock. But after the smoke cleared, I still wanted to try it, hype or no hype. Though Ben & Jerry's once created the mouth puckering Key Lime Pie, the sweet-tasting Liz Lemon FroYo just isn't sour enough to be satisfying. (Perhaps because lemon oil is the third-to-last ingredient?) And while the blueberry swirl does add a dimension to the flavor, it's not enough to remove the feeling that something is missing. This isn't a bad flavor, but it could use some tinkering to make it more lemony.

Pineapple Passion Fruit - Pineapple Greek Frozen Yogurt with Chunks of Pineapple & a Passion Fruit Swirl
Passion fruit has long been an outlier of fruit. Common enough to be recognizable, yet exotic enough to be exciting, it's name is rarely featured on the marquee. Even here, it's given second billing. For some reason, passion fruit hasn't been successful in the frozen dessert section. This hasn't kept it from being tried out, though. For example, this flavor actually echoes a Ben & Jerry's creation that now sits in the flavor graveyard, Island Paradise. (Passion Fruit was also one of the original flavors in Haagen-Dazs' recently discontinued Five collection, though it was quickly replaced with a more common fruit.) As for this flavor, the sourness of the froyo perfectly compliments the tartness of the tropical fruits. It is both refreshing and bold. Here's hoping it isn't discontinued as fast as its ancestors were.

Also new this season is Vanilla Honey Caramel, Vanilla Greek Frozen Yogurt with a Honey Caramel Swirl.


This round's winner: Pineapple Passion Fruit.

The AICM (April Ice Cream Madness) Tournament continues with Round 4: Häagen-Dazs Class of 2013...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Because Peeps are not yet bacon-flavored.

Hippity hoppity, Easter's on its way. You've been warned.
© Waters Edge Church

What to do with all that leftover Easter candy? Make an Epic Easter Casserole, of course! In this expertly-crafted parody of Epic Meal Time, a surly Easter bunny reminds you to waste not, want not.


Though there's nothing in the video to suggest it, this video was made by a church. (The only evidence is the Jack Daniels being replaced by the equally nauseating Mountain Dew.) I don't know anything about this church or their views, but kudos to them for making a solid video with the sole aim of having fun. I wouldn't mind if my church followed their lead.

Thanks to Angie W. for sharing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Round 2: Ben & Jerry's Class of 2013

Image capture of two pints Ben & Jerry's in their natural habitat.
After last's year's sub-par performance, I questioned whether or not Ben & Jerry's had lost their touch. I am happy to report that, despite the continued usage of corn syrup (though not as high on the list of ingredients as it is in the new Häagen-Dazs Gelato collection), this year's new products actually taste like food. More than that, they were enjoyable to eat! I was also happy to see on the Ben & Jerry's website their pledge regarding GMOs: "We commit to sourcing non-GMO ingredients for all our products everywhere by year-end 2013." This is cause for celebration and celebrate we shall: Free Cone Day is Tuesday, April 9!

Limited Edition Cannoli - The mascarpone ice cream base isn't as strong as I'd like--which makes sense because I prefer a light cannoli ricotta filling--but it is enough to evoke a powdered sugar sprinkled pastry. The cannoli shell pieces are inconsistent in their crunchiness, but the few good ones were enough to keep me digging for more. Overall, the flavor doesn't taste like its namesake as much as, say, Ben & Jerry's Boston Cream Pie ice cream does, but that didn't keep me from enjoying it. Tasty and worth checking out.

Chocolate Peppermint Crunch - This flavor seems purposed to appeal to the different types of mint ice cream enthusiasts. It is chocolate (what I look for), it has cookies (me, again), the chocolate-covered cookies have a substantial crunch to them (halfway appealing to those who like mint candy or candy cane in their ice cream) it has a white mint swirl (for those peppermint patty lovers who like a cool minty aftertaste). Which is the dominant flavor? Good question. Like some of the classic Ben & Jerry's flavors (Phish Food, New York Super Fudge Chunk) and two other usual suspects to my freezer (Half Baked, Everything But The...), the strength of Chocolate Peppermint Crunch is having so many different tastes and textures at once that it almost overwhelms the mouth. I couldn't help but keep eating, wanting more of each individual part. And though the flavor would have benefited from using real mint instead of peppermint oil, it still left me fat and satisfied.

These rookie products are joined by Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz, which rises from its plot in the flavor graveyard. I'd review the flavor but it interests me about as much as mud salad. Also available are two new products in Ben & Jerry's Frozen Yogurt collection, which I will review separately.


This round's winner: Chocolate Peppermint Crunch

The AICM (April Ice Cream Madness) Tournament continues with Round 3: Ben & Jerry's New Greek Frozen Yogurt Flavors...

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Celebrate a Half-birthday

Who invited the birthday cake to the half-birthday party?
Oh! What a delightfully whimsical foible of human logic!
When celebrating a half-birthday, one should bake a half-birthday cake to really make the day special! But don't fall into a pit of anxiety and self-flagellation, dear reader. It's simple! To make a half-birthday cake, one may use the same recipe that one uses to make a regular birthday cake. True fact: though the celebrations they commemorate are distinctly different, half-birthday cakes and birthday cakes are actually the same thing! ("They don't look the same," you may quip. Your eyes don't fool you, my dearly steadfast fan, but I assure you that the size is the only variable!)

To properly prepare the half-birthday cake, simply follow a birthday cake recipe as you would normally. It may feel like you're making a regular birthday cake for the first few steps, but remember the only difference in the preparation is that you will make less cake, half! For example, if your annual birthday tradition is making a two layer chocolate cake, mix the chocolate cake batter, but only pour enough to bake one layer. (Here's a fun tip for those among my attractive and smart admirers who rely on boxed cake mixes: add an extra egg and then trade out the oil for butter and the water for milk. It works like a pagan luck-enhancing device!) When your single-layer cake is done baking, frost the cake--having made your secret family recipe while the cake was baking!--and then cut it in half. Stack the frosted halves and your half-birthday cake is complete!

If you did things correctly,
your half-birthday cake should

look like this from above!
As I'm sure you know, my comely and brilliant follower, it is improper half-birthday etiquette to make a whole two layer cake and simply cut it in half. (Cheaters will be stoned to death. Repeat offenders will be excommunicated.) So what to do with that extra cake mix? One could save it for the half-birthday celebration of a friend or colleague, but I prefer using the remaining batter to make cupcakes! Then, when the cupcakes are done, take four of them, break them up and baptize the crumbs in a vanilla ice cream mix to sit overnight. The next day, pour in the vanilla and chocolate cupcake ice cream mix into an electric ice cream mixer. When the ice cream is nearly done churning, pour in some refrigerated, crushed raspberries for a treat even a mannerless philistine could enjoy!

Speaking of mannerless philistines, it is an unfortunate truth that, much like writing a dessert blog, being the perfect host is often a thankless job. (You may wonder, "Who let these swines into my house?" But you must never say this aloud, my sexy and genius devotee. Those swines are your guests!) Still, this lamentable fact mustn't keep you from sharing the half-birthday cake and ice cream with the miserable friends who are privileged enough to celebrate your milestone event with you, jealous of your cause for joy! It is both customary and proper to greet all compliments with mock humility, all while pestering/subtly fishing for compliments from quiet guests until they acquiesce. (A tip for my nympho, philomathic disciples: When sending your invitations remind the recipients that half-birthdays only come once a year and social obligations are but a light yolk to bear compared to martyrdom! It isn't rude to say this in an invitation! It's your party! You can ridicule swines if you want to!)

Follow these steps, my leather-and-latex-bound, PhD-holding cult member, and you will be the perfect host for your next half-birthday celebration!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Round 1: Häagen-Dazs Gelato Collection

Pre-trial photo of the defendants behind bars.
I'd be lying if I said I had high hopes for the new Häagen-Dazs Gelato collection. Though long a champion of Häagen-Dazs products, one glance at the ingredients (#3 or #4 - corn syrup) made me hypothesize that this was a case of packaging a cheaper product and selling it for the same price. It was with this sense of gravity that I purchased three pints of the new Gelato collection: Straciatella, Dark Chocolate Chip and Sea Salt Caramel. And since I was feeling judgmental, I've decided to write my review as two closing arguments and a verdict.

PROSECUTOR CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Historically, the ice cream bases offered by Häagen-Dazs have mostly stuck to natural ingredients--excepting mix-ins--something they once prided themselves on. Historically, the basic ingredients for gelato are milk, eggs, sugar and the central flavor ingredient (chocolate, pistachio, etc.). It seems, however, that Häagen-Dazs took a different gelato-making course. As a result, the flavors one finds in their latest collection are like diluted Häagen-Dazs with a terribly cloying aftertaste. To make matters worse, they are simply retreading existing territory. Conceptually, Sea Salt Caramel seems nothing more than their Limited Edition flavor Salted Caramel Truffle without the truffle mix-ins. And the Dark Chocolate Chip is virtually identical to the Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavor Chocolate Chocolate Chip, excepting the ingredient "corn syrup." Chocolate ice cream has long been a strength of Häagen-Dazs, despite the discontinuing of most of its chocolate-based flavors, but the gelato's chocolate-base tastes somewhere between Dairy Queen and low-fat ice cream. To use layman's terms, it tastes "gross." There is also the irrefutable evidence that, in the same season Häagen-Dazs introduced the Gelato collection, it has ended its Five collection, which prided itself on simplified all natural recipes that used only five ingredients. I submit to you that Häagen-Dazs is guilty of delivering a shoddy product in the name of cost cutting.

DEFENDANT'S CLOSING ARGUMENTS: When eating gelato, two things a person notices are the smooth texture and how light it is to eat. The Häagen-Dazs Gelato collection has succeeded in accomplishing these traits with their new product. The ingredient list of Dark Chocolate Chip may indeed be, quote, "virtually identical to the Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavor Chocolate Chocolate Chip," but some people prefer a smoother texture. That is precisely why many people choose to purchase gelato instead of ice cream. And Sea Salt Caramel gelato? It is much lighter than the ice cream product noted by the prosecutor. We could debate all day about the similarities of these gelato flavors and existing ice cream flavors, but these two frozen desserts have always had a shared legacy. Frankly, some gelato flavors do it better. For example, Stracciatella isn't simply repackaged chocolate chip; Stracciatella has loads of chocolate shavings in every bite! Corn syrup is not on trial here today; Häagen-Dazs is. And the only thing Häagen-Dazs has done is expand its product line.

VERDICT: Having heard the arguments, I can say you both have excellent points. Is a new product to be judged based on its brand or as a freestanding product with its own merits? I cannot help but be reminded of Ben & Jerry's increased use of corn syrup these past few years, but the recent utilization of the ingredient in Häagen-Dazs products is disconcerting. Earlier this year, I noticed a softer texture in my "Vanilla Swiss Almond," long my favorite grocery store pint. I called shenanigans, and the shenanigans were corn syrup. Häagen-Dazs hasn't put it in all their pints yet, but if this new Gelato collection is any indication, they will. To me, this is not acceptable business practice from a luxury ice cream maker. But, in truth, Häagen-Dazs has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. (Just ask Monsanto about using corn products.) Therefore, I am remiss to say I must let them off with a warning. But I do so with a plea, "Please return my Vanilla Swiss Almond back to its former glory."


This round's winner: Straciatella.

The AICM (April Ice Cream Madness) Tournament continues with Round 2: Ben & Jerry's Class of 2013...

Monday, April 1, 2013

AICM (April Ice Cream Madness) Tournament!

The short-sleeve shirts and bright colors are in the store windows and the last of the winter jackets are hanging sloppily off their hangers somewhere amongst the clearance racks. Never mind the fact that it is still in the 30's and snow flurries were in the air this morning. No foolin'. It must be spring in Chicago.

And as the axiom goes, March groundhog indictment brings new flavors to April's grocery store shelves. Though I more often blog about local businesses, this month I will review mass produced products, nine pints worth that currently reside in my freezer. (Sorry, roomies!) Each round will have a winner that will duke it out in the championship. Check back all month to find out what is worth tasting and what is worth tossing.
Who will be the winner of best new superpremium grocery store flavor? Check back all month to find out. Past winner include Häagen-Dazs Coconut Macaroon (2012), Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake (2011) and Häagen-Dazs Midnight Cookies and Cream (2010).