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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Archer Farms Blueberry Mini Muffins

When I was a very young lad growing up in Hershey, PA, my parents threw a grand soiree for their friends featuring home-baked goods to be shared by all the attendees. Only one other youngster was in attendance—my best friend at the time, whom we'll call Phillip for the sake of this blog post.

He and I were staying out of the way of the adults and were looking to get into a bit of mischief. We began sampling the desserts and pastries at opportune moments here and there when our parents weren't looking. There were pies, cakes, tarts, and a random assortment of cookies. At the end of the table, I spied a basket of blueberry muffins. I don't know what it was about those things, but I fell in love at first bite. I handed one to Phillip. His eyes lit up as he bit into the fluffy muffin. We were both completely enchanted by these treats. I was young enough that these might have been the first blueberry muffins I'd ever had. They were soft, sweet, and nearly perfect in every way.

Phillip and I consumed the entire basket within minutes, giggling as we devoured each one. We left only crumbs and blueberry stains across the bottom of the empty serving container. Suddenly, it dawned on me that our parents and their guests wouldn't be particularly pleased that there were no more blueberry muffins to be served at their party. Surely enough, as we hid out in my bedroom, we heard my mother scream my full name, middle included, and we knew we were in for it. I got a spanking and a stern lecture and Phillip was immediately escorted home. It was one of my earliest memories of corporal punishment—and certainly not my last—but at least in this case, I actually deserved it...all thanks to those delicious blueberry muffins.

These Archer Farms muffins were good enough that history almost repeated itself—except instead of getting in trouble with my parents, it was my wife doling out the corrections this time around. I had already eaten a few of the muffins for breakfast and I was exceptionally hungry after a long hike, and I wound up consuming the whole rest of the container. My wife did get a couple of the muffins in this case, before I managed to polish off the last few—and she liked them enough that she was hoping to go back for more.

It might just be because I was particularly hungry, or that I just always crave blueberry muffins ever since that incident when I was young, but I simply can't give these a low score. They went down pretty easily. Probably not the healthiest muffins I've ever consumed, but hey, it's the holidays. I'll take these blueberry muffins over Christmas cookies any day.

I give these muffins 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Almonds

As a child growing up with a plethora of food allergies, I always felt fortunate that none of them were to nuts of any kind. I had to avoid foods like wheat, milk, and sugar, so naturally, I had all varieties of nuts as a snack on many occasions. My childhood favorites were macadamias, filberts, and pecans...and, of course, almonds.

Although I don't often wind up snacking on macadamias and filberts, mostly because of their relative lack of availability and/or high price, I still enjoy pecans and almonds fairly regularly.

Thanks to treatments and changing body chemistry, the vast majority of my food allergies eventually dwindled and subsided—so the sugar and milk powder in the ingredients here don't pose a threat.

Good thing, because these snacks are tasty.

There's a healthy dose of pumpkin spice mixed in with the coating here, but the creamy sweetness of the white chocolate can still be detected. As you can see there in the window on the bag, the snacks are just slightly larger than normal almonds, egg-shaped, and robed in two different shades of autumnal veneer.

Each almond is whole and pristine. There's more than enough nutty flavor coming through in the mix. I'm actually surprised to see that "white chocolate" appears above "almonds" on the ingredients list.

And of course just a little pumpkin spice goes a long way, so the "less than 2%" of spices including cinnamon still flavors each bite quite adequately. Even though it's not mentioned specifically on the ingredients, I taste something decidedly nutmeggy here, much like the Pumpkin Spice Pretzels I tried recently.

I think this bag was $2.99 here in South Jersey. Not something I'd crave outside of October and November, but a nice seasonal snack if you ask me.

These almonds get 8 out of 10 stars from me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Pretzels

As I mentioned on my other blog, it seems like the whole pumpkin thing has peaked. There's even a strong adverse reaction to pumpkin products now from some vocal consumers.

I admit, I've reviewed obscure products like Pumpkin Pie Mochi and loved every bite. But I certainly don't think it's a bad thing if pumpkin spice slows down a bit and makes way for things like apple cinnamon, apple cider, and butternut squash products.

"There's room for all the delicious flavors of fall," he said in a forced, dreamy announcer voice.

And there are some products that are simple and basic enough that it's a wonder they didn't exist sooner. Take these pretzels, for example. I know they're not brand new, but they also haven't been around for more than a few years, either. They just possess a classic essence—like something that your grandparents might have enjoyed long ago.

It makes me think of those Werther's commercials where the old dude is like, "After walking home 18 miles in a snowstorm, we used to sit by the fire and eat Werther's Originals for dinner back in 1908." And then the kid eats one and nods agreeably and acknowledges that maybe pappy isn't quite as bat-crap crazy as he had originally thought, because the candy doesn't taste as awful as he'd assumed.

These pretzels have that vibe. Except maybe I'll be the old dude in 2060 trying to get my descendants to eat some of these pumpkin pretzels.

"Man, what is it with old geezers and pumpkin spice stuff?" they'll wonder.

They're just normal crunchy salted pretzels with a white fudge coating and some pumpkin spices thrown in. They're sweet, salty, and definitely spicy. I'm actually surprised they have as much nutmeggy kick as they do. I would think that would drive away as many people as it would attract...but at least we know they're not just calling it "pumpkin spice" and then not delivering.

I think I'll tire of this flavor pretty soon and be perfectly happy with regular white fudge pretzels for the rest of the year—but just for seasonal consumption, this flavor is perfect.

Sonia and I both liked these a lot. I'd buy them again. $2.99 for the bag. Not bad.

I give these 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Simply Balanced Organic Cranberry Chocolate Flax Granola

It's been quite a while since we've reviewed any granola on this blog, though at one point, it was a very regular occurrence. I thought "cranberry chocolate" sounded kind of tasty, so I picked up this bag on my last Target run.

The base is the same style of granola we've seen in other Archer Farms and Simply Balanced products, but this particular flavor guessed it: chocolate and cranberries. It's fairly generous in the chocolate department, but extraordinarily stingy when it comes to the berries.

That's by far my biggest complaint about this product: a decided lack of cranberries. In fact, just look at the picture above. There's not a single cranberry in there. And I promise I didn't pick through the granola and remove the cranberries to prove my point. That picture is exactly the way the cereal poured into the bowl. There might be one or two bits of crantastic goodness hiding near the bottom, but that still isn't enough.

I've had two full bowls of the stuff and have only come across three dried cranberry halves in all that granola. I must admit that those three bites that contained cranberry were exceptional, but they're way too far and few between to enhance the cereal the way they should. Simply Balanced should either find a way to pack more cranberries into this product, or they should end the charade altogether and simply call this "chocolate flax granola."

All the many bites that don't contain cranberry are just fine, in fact, I'd consider this an above-average granola selection. But it's the principle of the thing. It's almost like a "bait and switch" tactic. They get you all pumped up for cranberries and chocolate and then make you settle for chocolate alone.

I'm torn between 6 and 7 stars. I guess I'll go with 7 since this product really is good with or without cranberries—and the bites that do contain cranberries...I'd give those a solid 8.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Simply Balanced Sea Salt & Vinegar Roasted Chickpea Snack

I'm not sure if it's ever come up before on this blog, but I LOVE CHICKPEAS.

Honestly, I've always had a huge affinity for the nutritious legumes. While my childhood friends would pile up croutons and dressing on top of their salads, I remember stacking my plate high with a bed of greens and a massive tower of garbanzo beans. I'll occasionally snack on nothing but chickpeas with a little salt and pepper. In short, I'm a fan.

And recently, these dried chickpea-based treats have been popping up in different flavors from quite a few different brands. This is the second such offering that I've tried.

And unfortunately, I think this product might have scored higher in my book had I not tried a similar offering from Trader Joe's just a couple weeks prior.

The Trader Joe's chickpeas were larger, they had a much better seasoning on them, and somehow they still flaunted more natural chickpea taste. These snacks were very gritty—almost sandy, and much harder to chew than the other chickpea snacks I've sampled. This Simply Balanced product was vaguely salty, but there was very little vinegar flavor, in my opinion.

On the plus side, there's still a good amount of fiber and protein here, and the resealable bag is uber-convenient, as always. Because of my love of the great garbanzo bean, I'd give another flavor a chance in the future.

But as for this particular chickpea snack, I can't go much higher than five out of 10 stars.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Simply Balanced Blueberry Fruit & Grain Bars

If you've ever had a blueberry Nutri-Grain bar, then you know exactly what you're getting here. Nutri-Grain and Simply Balanced look and taste extremely similar.

In fact, it amazes me how generic food products can imitate the original name brand, right down to the style and color of packaging, and not be violating some kind of copyright law.

In the art world, it's different: duplicate a song or a film with a certain level of similarity, and you're violating what someone has already claimed as their intellectual property.

But with food? Seems like anything goes. Lucky for store brands like Market Pantry, Archer Farms, and Simply Balanced.

This Simply Balanced version flaunts organic ingredients, and strangely, 10 more calories per bar, but other than that and the packaging, the two products are virtually indistinguishable. Both this product and the traditional Nutri-Grain offering are soft, sweet, and individually wrapped for breakfast on the go.

They were $2.99 at the Target I found them at, which is pretty close to what you'd normally pay for the name brand at full price. One unique, original thing about the packaging: that one-eyed blue guy on the cover art. I guess he's a blueberry person. He looks like he belongs in Monsters, Inc.

If you're interested in the nutrition info, here's a link for calories, fat, etc.

I give this product exactly the same score I'd give to blueberry Nutri-Grain bars: 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Simply Balanced Gluten Free Blueberry Nut & Fruit Clusters

I think this is the first gluten-free product we've reviewed here on WGAAF—at least, it's the first product being marketed as a gluten-free snack option. I guess there's not a whole lot of wheat gluten in products like habanero salsa or sparkling grapefruit juice, but these clusters are snacks that might be assumed glutenful unless otherwise noted on the packaging.

So I guess this is the part of the blog post where I tell you that I'm "gluten-sensitive." It's true. Not gluten-intolerant personally, although I've known a few folks with celiac disease and Crohn's disease throughout the years, and I know vicariously that both of those conditions can be highly difficult, life-altering, and even debilitating. My sympathies if you or someone close to you suffers from either of those maladies.

"Gluten sensitive" means if I eat gluten, I feel it in my digestive system. It can be uncomfortable and make me sluggish, but it won't cause any major complications. My wife is the same way. We avoid gluten when it's practical to do so, but as you can see by the many pizza reviews on this blog, for example, we often throw caution to the wind and "bite the gluten bullet," so to speak.

All that to say that I'm no stranger to the world of gluten-free foods. Just check out our other blog. I know it can be extremely difficult to find gluten-free options, and I know that when they are there, they tend to come at a premium. Be prepared to shell out more cash if you want to go gluten-free.

This product is no different. Three dollars for three ounces of food is a bit steep. But Target knows that if you're gluten-free out of necessity, you'll go ahead and pay whatever you have to. Celiac sufferers gotta live, too. But are they worth it for the rest of us?

Their texture is surprisingly hard. The nuts are firm and somewhat crunchy, but there's also a tackiness to them that makes them just slightly difficult to chew. They're slightly sweet and there is, in fact, a detectable blueberry essence about them. They're also salty and nutty—in fact, I'd say the dominant flavor is that of almonds and cashews. They do fall apart and crumble if you attempt to bite them in half, although I was pretty pleased with the truly bite-sized squares—significantly smaller than other products labeled "bite-sized."

The flavor grew on me by the end of the bag. They're convenient and if they can just find a way to bring the price down by a buck or so...

I give these clusters 7 out of 10 stars.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Archer Farms Fire-Roasted Pepper & Habanero Salsa

"Salsa is now the number one condiment in America."

"Do you know why?...Because people like to say SALSA. Excuse me, do you have any SALSA? We need more SALSA. Where is the SALSA? No SALSA?"

That zany Seinfeld. I loved that salsa scene back in the day, and likewise, I LOVE this salsa from Archer Farms. It says "extra hot" on the label, and it actually IS extra hot. It's not super duper painful spicy, but it's got by far the most kick of any salsa I've tried from Archer Farms, and possibly the most kick from any store brand salsa anywhere. Potent stuff.

And not only is it spicy, but it's flavorful, too. It tastes just like pepper and habanero. It's not just heat for the sake of heat. If a sauce is going to be hot, it's imperative that it flaunt intense flavor, not just searing pain. This product delivers.

The chunks of pepper aren't big, but this salsa has got some body to it, for sure. It goes best with tortilla chips, but it also paired well with those Parmesan Garlic Potato Chips that I bought at the same time. Parmesan cheese, garlic, habanero, and fire-roasted that was a taste-tacular party in my mouth.
I still prefer it with tortilla chips since they allow the flavor of the salsa to dominate a little bit more. Also I prefer the texture of corn tortilla chips with thick and chunky salsas over that of kettle-cooked potato chips.

I do wish the jar were a little bigger, but a quality salsa like this is well worth $2.99. Low in calories, too.

This is my first salsa review in quite a while. Check out this link to read some Archer Farms brand salsa reviews from the archives.

I give this salsa 9 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Archer Farms Parmesan Garlic Potato Chips

It's been a while since we've taken a look at Archer Farms potato chips. Let's see...I think these Sweet Potato Chips might have been the last ones we reviewed, a full two years ago already. Can you believe May 2015 was two whole years ago?? Time flies.

And I'm very grateful that my long hiatus from AF chips was ended by such an excellent product. It's got the same reasonable $2.79 price tag and the same resealable ziplock-at-the-top bag as we've seen many times before.

But the flavor of these chips is great. Especially if you love parmesan cheese and garlic, which fortunately, I do.

The parmesan hits your tongue first. There's something warm and comforting about the flavor. It doesn't taste like a dusting of grated parmesan. It actually tastes like a big block of the cheese, like the one displayed on the artwork on the packaging, has been seamlessly interwoven into each chip. It's not an overwhelming flavor, but it's just right—enough to know you're not eating plain potato chips, but not so much to bowl you over.

Likewise, the garlic adds a nice earthy, herby essence to the finish that prompts one to grab another handful and keep munching. I'm sure it's enough to give you "garlic breath," so be ready with mints if you've got a hot date lined up for later.

The texture is quite firm and rigid. It's the typical "kettle chip" consistency. In all honesty, I prefer a "softer" chip, but the maximum crunch factor worked here just fine.

These chips are pretty addictive. My wife likes them a lot, too. It looks like we'll have this bag polished off by the end of the day, having just opened them yesterday. They're good enough that I'll definitely be visiting that chip aisle again soon to see what other delicious snacky morsels AF has been developing lately...

I give these chips 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Simply Balanced Peanut Butter Baked Corn Puffs

So...I don't know if you picked up on it from the "baked corn puffs" part of this product's name, but these are basically cheesy poofs with peanut butter instead of cheese.

I'm not really sure how I feel about them even after trying them. My biggest issue is that they seem to be stuck somewhere between "sweet treat" and "savory snack." If they boosted the sugariness just a bit, they'd definitely fall in the former category. If they bumped up the rich peanut butter level, they might fall into the latter group.

If they were just a little sweeter, I could almost see these working as an ice cream topping—or if you had the reckless abandon to go where most adults never would, you could serve them with a little bowl of chocolate sauce to dip in. You'd have something Reese's-esque, and I dare say they'd be pretty tasty that way.

As they stand, they're surprisingly non-calorific. Unlike traditional cheesy puffs or "cheesy poofs," I can actually taste the corn base here. It's not overpowering, but it's there. And it's enough to compete with the peanut butter flavor just a tad. Corn and peanut butter isn't really a classic flavor combo, if you ask me. So one way or another, they need to bump up the peanut butter's potency here.

They're bite-sized, which is convenient. Small enough that you can hold several in your hand at once, but large enough that you don't feel the need to cram more than one in your mouth at a time. As we've seen with other Simply Balanced snacks, these corn puffs come in a resealable bag.

The texture is pleasant, with a crunch typical of other baked corn-based snacks. The peanut butter coating lends a smooth waxiness to the product. Fortunately, it doesn't stain one's hands like the fluorescent coating of a traditional cheesy poof.

I might have gone with a lower score, since I can't see these being a repeat purchase as is. But I really like the concept and I think these could be stellar with just a few minor tweaks to the recipe.

As they stand, I give these baked corn puffs 7 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Market Pantry Fruit Punch Liquid Water Enhancer

I must confess I thought this was an "energy" water enhancer with caffeine and such when I purchased it. I saw "infused with B vitamins" and just assumed, wrongly, that there would be caffeine as well.

But I have plenty of use for non-caffeinated water enhancers, too. Whether you're looking to replace expensive energy drinks or any other type of beverage, these little bottles of concentrated flavor can save big bucks in the long run—basically generic Mio.

And as far as flavored water additives go, this one is pretty tasty. It tastes like a typical sugar free fruit punch. There's a bit of that tart, unpleasant aspartame type taste that lingers on the tongue, but that's pretty common with water enhancers in general.

Just to clarify, this product does NOT contain aspartame, but there are about a half dozen other unpronounceable chemicals present, not to mention Red 40. Probably not great for you, but let's all hope that we're ingesting them in such small quantities that it'll take a really long time to actually kill us.

Zero calories, $2.97 for the bottle, B vitamins, 24 servings, and a flavor that's not entirely revolting?

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Archer Farms Bunny Bait Trail Mix

I searched high and low for this product last year. I looked in Targets in southern New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware, but to no avail. Perhaps the hunters in the region were actually using the product to catch bunnies during small game season, so Target was asked to remove the product from its shelves...

Just a theory.

The small game hunters of central North Carolina are not subject to such restrictions, at least not this year, as I procured some of the coveted trail mix at a Target store near Charlotte a week or two ago, with a little help from my better half.

We placed some of the mixture outside our RV in a nearby field. But alas, no rabbits were attracted to the stuff. A few squirrels came near, but even they didn't touch this trail mix, clearly formulated for woodland rodents.

Actually, I'm just kidding. I think they made this stuff for people. Because to people, it tastes really good.

Both Sonia and I think the honey roasted peanuts are a bit out of place. I mean, they work perfectly well by themselves, but in this mix, they seemed a little strange. The confetti cookies, yogurt-covered raisins, M&M's, marshmallowy things, and white chocolate-covered pretzel balls all worked well together.

I'm not sure why this product, like another recently-reviewed festive trail mix, didn't have the word "indulgent" emblazoned on the side of the packaging to let you know that if you consume this product on the regular that, you know, you'll get fat really fast...or in some cases, fatter, as the situation may be. But, ahem, that's neither here nor there...

If you look closely, you can see in the picture that the product is very salty, as there are granules of salt all over my hand, not just on the product itself. It's a salty-sweet kind of situation, which works pretty well overall. I just wouldn't be heartbroken if they had replaced the peanuts with something else in this case.

With Easter just a little over a month away, the pastel colors of this festive mix are fun and seasonally-appropriate. A bag of this stuff would be a great addition to a kid's Easter basket. Or an adult's Easter basket.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Archer Farms Salted Caramel Gelato

I feel like this salted caramel craze has reached its peak and is starting to wane at this point. I'm not sure when it started. Ten or fifteen years ago, caramel wasn't really a big thing. But then people started adding the words "salted" or "sea salt and..." before it, and suddenly, it was all the rage.

Here are the search results for "salted caramel" from another popular food blog you might be familiar with. Tons of results. We've even seen Sea Salt Caramel Cookie Bites from Archer Farms in recent years. In the end, I think this trend is just a phase; a fad, and it will be over soon. I think most of these salted caramel products are overrated and overhyped, with only one or two exceptions in my experience.

So all that being said, my rant is over, and we can objectively look at this new ice cream flavor from Target. The first thing that jumps out at me is the packaging. Fancy. Much more "top-shelf" than your average store brand ice cream. That shiny golden band around the lid looks good enough to eat just by itself. You could cut a hole in the middle of the lid and use it as a halo for an angel costume in this year's Christmas Nativity.

Or not. Yes, I know I'm digressing. Forgive me.

I just don't have much to say about the ice cream, er, excuse me, gelato, itself. And it is proper gelato, not ice cream. That is an important distinction. It's denser than ice cream, made with milk rather than cream, and has less fat than most American ice creams.

It also contains both corn syrup and HFCS. And carrageenan. Not a fan of any of those ingredients.

The flavor is basically what I expected. It's smooth and silky and slightly salty, but not particularly memorable. The caramel ribbon, at least in my pint, was mostly found in a column right down the center of the product, much like the Ben and Jerry "Core" ice creams. You can taste the butter, and it plays all right with the caramel, but in the end, I think I'd prefer a vanilla base. The mouthfeel's a bit goofy as well.

I can't say I hated it, but I can't really see myself ever purchasing this flavor again, either.

I give this gelato 6 out of 10 stars.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Archer Farms Cinnamon Churro Coffee

I think the first time I ever had a churro was while I was living in California, during a trip to Disneyland with friends. One churro cost something like $10, but I didn't even care. I was amazed. How could something so delicious have eluded me for so many years? I don't think I'd even heard the word "churro" until I was in my mid-twenties.


I started buying churros and mini churros from El Pollo Loco, Jack in the Box, street vendors, and anyplace else I found them. My wife, Sonia, loves churros too. They were a staple in her Southern California diet long before I ever came into the picture.

And since she's a churro expert, AND she loves coffee...for the first time ever on this blog, I'm going to let her do most of the reviewing, and I'll defer to her for the product's final score.

She liked it overall. She thought it tasted more like just plain cinnamon than an actual churro, but she admitted that there were hints of something churro-esque. It didn't require any more or less sugar than her normal cuppa, but she did make sure to use brown sugar for a more authentic churro-y taste. As you can see from the photo, she brewed the coffee in a French press and was pleased with the results.

Overall, it's a pleasant flavor, but there's quite a ways to go until it's unmistakably churro-tastic.

Sonia gives this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Simply Balanced Chicken Tortilla Soup

I always assumed tortilla soup would, you know, have tortillas in it. But what do I know?

Instead, it's a red broth with black beans, corn, and little hunks of chicken. Not bad. The broth is mildly spicy, and the corn and beans are nothing to complain about...although, I wouldn't have minded if there were a lot more of them. 

The soup is pretty know, brothy, that is. It's mostly just liquid—not nearly as chunky as the picture on the box would have you believe. That alone wasn't the product's biggest weakness, as the liquid part of the soup was pretty decent and flavorful.

The chicken chunks were all near-perfect cubes, and were abnormally dark, even for dark meat chicken. They were a deep brown—such a gloomy color that I think if I hadn't known any better, I would have assumed they were little pieces of low-grade beef. Fortunately, they didn't taste nearly as bad as they looked. But once again, the soup could have used a good bit more of them.

I definitely think this melange would have benefited from little tortilla bits—either the kind that come in a little plastic bag that you add yourself or the kind that are soft to begin with and don't mind swimming around in salty soup for some indeterminate amount of time on Target's shelves. This soup was crying out for carbs but did not deliver in that department.

So I added some carbs myself in the form of good old-fashioned saltine crackers. They certainly helped, but not quite enough.

It was $2.29 for the box at the Target where we discovered it—I believe somewhere in coastal Georgia, probably near Savannah, as our recent adventures have taken us through The Jewel of the South. It's just a little pricier than your average can of soup, but the box is one ounce bigger, too. But in the end, this product just wasn't enough bang for the buck to be a repeat purchase.

I'll give the soup 6 out of 10 stars.

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