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Monday, December 17, 2018

Wondershop Marshmallow Cocoa Topper

Other than bringing the holiday cuteness, this product isn't impressing me very much.

Presentation-wise, there's nothing to complain about. Two beautiful snowflakes in a see-through wrapper, right? Obviously. They even shimmer in the same manner as real snowflakes. Who knew sugar crystals could look so dazzling? It's the second product we've seen from the "Wondershop." Like the last product we looked at, this one isn't particularly pricey. It, too, would make a good stocking stuffer.

But if you've only got a buck or two to spend, I'd definitely go with the white chocolate bark over these snowflakes, particularly if you're more concerned with the taste of the product rather than exterior aesthetics. Also, this product is 50 cents more than the birthday cake dealie.

Flavor and taste aside, the first thing that jumps out at me about these snowflakes—from a practical standpoint—is that they don't fit in a coffee mug. Pretty sure the radius of all our mugs is exactly the same. I'm sure there's a bit of deviation from mug to mug, but in general, they're all gonna be in the same ballpark as the mugs that we have. And the snowflake doesn't fit!

As you can see in the pic above, there was some awkward stuffing and squeezing involved to get the snowflake to rest on top of the cocoa, with part of the flake submerged below the surface like a virgin crystal falling from the sky only to land in a dirty mud puddle by the side of the road. And I'm well aware that my hot cocoa stirring was messy and erratic. Oh well.

Taking bites from the snowflake after a simple dunk or two in hot chocolate is similarly frustrating. It's just not a very tasty marshmallow. It's slightly better once completely dissolved in the beverage, lending a pleasant bit of sweetness, but it also yields an unpleasant chemical flavor.

There are hydrogenated oils and a few other weird things listed in the ingredients. It's not like you'll be consuming a ton of them just from one or two snowflakes in your cocoa, but I'm sure there are other ways to create a pretty hot beverage topper that doesn't require trans fats or chemical nonsense.

In the end, this product won't kill you. It is packaged and presented well, but don't expect more than sub-par fluffy sugar in the taste and texture department.

I give this cocoa topper 6 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wondershop Birthday Cake White Chocolate Mini Bark

I'm not sure if you can call it "bark" when it's just a slab of plain white chocolate with a few sprinkles on top.

But call it "bark" they did. And by "they," I mean Target. And by Target, I mean the Wondershop at Target.

Cool gimmick I suppose. Put all the holiday-themed stuff under a new moniker. They've already got Market Pantry, Archer Farms, and Simply Balanced—not to mention all the non-food related brands like Up and Up. Bring on the Wondershop, baby.

This particular treat is small, sweet, and festive. Why it's called "birthday cake" just because it's made of white chocolate, I'm not sure. We've seen this from at least one other brand.

It's clearly meant to be Christmassy. Perhaps it's meant just for those with December birthdays, or maybe it's meant as a sort of "Happy Birthday to Jesus" kind of sentiment. Whatever their intentions, they nailed the stocking stuffer vibe perfectly with this $1 piece of candy.

You can see the entire product in my hand for scale. It's not huge. It's not fancy. The sprinkles add nothing but color. But if you like white chocolate or know someone whose stocking you'll be stuffing that likes white chocolate, well, here you go. This exists. Pick one up at Target. I know you'll be there at least a dozen times between now and Christmas.

Is it good white chocolate? Well, it's a buck...and it's not bad white chocolate. So, there you have my in-depth, very helpful review.

I give this slab of white chocolate optimized for stocking stuffing 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Hot Cocoa Mix

If you're zeroing in on a product with "Pumpkin Spice" in the title and a big illustration of a pumpkin and cinnamon sticks on the packaging, then chances are you like the taste of pumpkin spice and want a fair amount of it in said product.

I'm not saying pumpkin spice can't be overdone, because it certainly can. There's a fine line between not quite enough pumpkin spice and WAY TOO MUCH—but I'll just tell you right now that this beverage errs on the side of "not enough pumpkin spice."

It's there, but it's very subtle—overshadowed by the taste of traditional hot cocoa. There's just a whisper of cinnamon and nutmeg, particularly at the finish. Even pumpkin spice-haters and people quite tired of the ubiquitous orange gourd and its complimentary seasonings could probably stand this warm, autumnal beverage.

A while back, my wife bought a bunch of fancy paper cups with plastic sippy lids and cardboard heat guard thingies so she could feel like she was having fancy coffee shop coffee even when it's normal instant stuff or, in this case, instant hot cocoa. Sonia made this pumpkin spice hot cocoa with milk, and it turned out to be high-quality, creamy, and overall pretty tasty.

No major complaints. It just doesn't taste that much like pumpkin spice.

I give this hot cocoa mix 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Archer Farms Apple Cinnamon Pretzels

It's still fall, and we're still checking out these autumnal "limited edition" goodies that show up on Target's shelves every year. Today's choice: Apple Cinnamon Pretzels.

Very similar to last year's Pumpkin Spice Pretzels, this offering is simply salted mini-pretzels with a "confectionery coating." The coating on these pretzels does taste vaguely of apple cinnamon, although the specific flavoring is less pungent than I'd like it to be. It's undeniably sweet—not unlike traditional white fudge covered pretzels—but as my wife was quick to point out, the apple flavor in particular tastes fake.

I wasn't expecting an authentic apple cider flavor or anything like that. I didn't expect the number one ingredient to be actual apples. In fact, there's absolutely no mention of apples or apple derivatives of any kind in the ingredients list. A bit disappointing. I suppose some kind of apple essence might be included under the "natural flavorings" banner.

"Cinnamon" is listed in the "less than 1%" category.

I think it might have improved these pretzels greatly had they found some way to put dried apple bits in the sweet coating, both to make the texture a little more complex and also to boost the apple flavor. Even if they'd have pureed a single apple in the fudgey part of these pretzels, I think it might have made them vastly more interesting.

My better half expressed her wish that they'd have used a yogurt coating instead of "white fudge." I suppose yogurt might be a tad healthier, but in most cases, there's just as much sugar involved. I'm not sure if there'd be any discernible health advantage in a product like this that's already loaded with sugar and sodium. It's an indulgent, dessert-ish treat for sure, with plenty of fat and carbs.

I know, I know. The product makes no claims that it's a health food, so why analyze it as such? Because this product, in my humble opinion, simply isn't worth the calories it carries. It's odd to have a product that's supposed to be flavored like sweet apples taste this salty. Sweet and salty does often work, but throw cinnamon and fake fruity flavors into the mix, and it's a bit of a gray area if you ask me. 

This flavor simply doesn't work as well as the aforementioned pumpkin spice version. The wifey liked them even less than I did. She refused to go back for a second handful. Nice try, Archer Farms, but I don't think this is a repeat buy for me.

I give these pretzels 6 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Archer Farms Maple Trail Mix

Maple's a good fall flavor. Along with pumpkin and apple, it's one of the most autumnal things you can eat. Maplicious.

This trail mix is pretty good, but it could easily be even better. How, you ask? By putting way fewer "cinnamon cookies" in the bag and adding a lot more nuts.

At first, the cinnamon cookies seem okay. They're vaguely cinnamony, crunchy, and not unlike the "graham bites" in the Rudolph's Mix we looked at two years back. Their flavor is very similar and their appearance and texture are nearly identical. They just don't bring as much to the mix as any of the other ingredients, and they take up way too much space in the bag. I even started picking them out and putting them in another container to save for...I don't know...feeding to the squirrels?

The "cinnamon-flavored pretzel balls" are pretty interesting. I think they're little pretzels coated with cinnamon yogurt. Unique and tasty.

The almonds and peanuts are candied in a mapley glaze and could easily stand alone as a delicious snack. I just wish there were more of 'em. There are tragically few raisins, as well.

The cereal squares are Chexy and sweet, although the maple glaze on them makes them taste and feel just slightly stale to me. I think they'd have been better without the glaze. There's enough sugar in here already. Why not just let the multigrain flavor do its thing?

If you're a fan of maple, this trail mix is worth a shot. I just think they came soooo close to making something great, and fell just shy of the mark. I probably wouldn't buy it again, but if someone put a baggie full of it in my backpack, I'd most definitely still eat some as a snack here and there.

I think we paid a clearance price of $2.99 for this trail mix. It might have been a little more previously. Always changing prices on us, those tricky Target employees—fortunately, they're usually lowering them. Just another reason I still shop at Target once in a while.

I give this trail mix 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Archer Farms Mocha Cold Brew Coffee

I always have to preface coffee reviews with the disclaimer that I'm not really a "coffee guy." How unAmerican, right? I know.

I'm not saying I've never had coffee. I've had plenty of it. I just don't really like it as much as other people seem to—at least in most instances. I've been a coffee-drinker out of necessity from time to time. I've had to wake up at ridiculous hours to be at work by 6am, I've braved the cheap stuff in the office coffee pot while trying to shake myself out of that post-lunch food coma, and I've had it in place of an energy drink just to change things up.

But I'm not a "true coffee-lover" by a true coffee-lover's standards. However...

If all coffee tasted like this, I might be a little more inclined to drink it every day. There's a genuine coffee flavor, but it's already lightly sweetened, and it tastes like mocha—not a sticky sweet candy chocolate mocha, either. It's a subtle dark, earthy chocolate that blends perfectly with the cold brew coffee flavor. It's thin and chuggable, and even I didn't feel the need to add any extra sugar or creamer.

I can't imagine this flavor working quite as well hot, but maybe that's because the heat index here in South Jersey is well over a hundred degrees today. Cold is the only way to consume coffee in this weather. I've generally gravitated toward cold beverages my whole life. I'll do an ice cold Rockstar in January, but a piping hot cuppa in August? Not so much. And lucky for me, cold brew coffee was meant to be consumed chilled.

The wife—a certified coffee fan—loved this flavor as much as I did. We'll be checking out the other AF cold brew offerings in the near future. Stay tuned.

I give this coffee 9 out of 10 stars.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Archer Farms Caramel Maple Bourbon Pecan Reduced Fat Ice Cream

Cookie dough ice cream has always been one of my favorites. Maybe that's why I was so harsh on Archer Farms Reduced Fat version. I'm very particular about my cookie dough.

Maple pecan and butter pecan type ice creams are usually not at the top of my flavor maybe that's why I'm relatively impressed with this offering. It still tastes sorta diet-y if you know what I mean, but less so than the previously-reviewed cookie dough flavor, as well as many of the Halo Top/Enlightened/Moo-phoria "healthy" ice cream flavors that I've sampled over the past year or two. 

The ribbons of caramel running through this pint are plenteous and sweet, but they're quite bourbonescent as well. "Bourbonescent" means bourbony or bourbon-ish, just FYI. It's not a super harsh bourbon flavor, but it is fairly strong. It's balanced out well with the maple flavor of the ice cream itself.

There are a few pecan pieces in the mix. I'd say you get about a quarter of a pecan nut every other spoonful on average, at least in this batch. That's not bad, but I wouldn't have minded quite a bit more of them.

Walnuts would have been a nice touch, too. Nuts are rich in protein, right? So they stick to the whole "high-protein ice cream" theme we've got going here.

If you don't mind the taste of bourbon, I think we've got a winner here—at least for fans of these newfangled diet ice creams. This one is among the best. But it's still a diet ice cream. $3.69 at my local Target.

I give this flavor 7 out of 10 stars. And I'm a very tough grader when it comes to ice cream.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Archer Farms Cookie Dough Reduced Fat Ice Cream

I've never been huge on diet ice creams. Whether they're fat free, sugar free, or reduced calorie, I find they almost always fall drastically short of their full calorie counterparts—not to mention short of my expectations.

But that's no surprise. If you want to lose weight, eat better, and be fitter, you've got to make sacrifices somewhere. I'm not saying I'm super fit right now, but for me, eating diet ice creams has never been the answer. I'd rather eat half a cup of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby and enjoy every bite of it than eat a whole pint of ice cream that I'm only marginally happy with.

Enter Halo Top and the myriad of ice cream companies imitating them. In recent years, there's been a diet ice cream revolution of sorts. Even I must admit that Halo Top took diet ice cream to a new level. It's still not even close to a good old-fashioned scoop of the real stuff in my humble opinion, but it's closer than diet ice cream has ever been.

There's been a little buzz about these reduced fat, reduced calorie ice creams from Archer Farms on social media. I guess they're Target's answer to the "healthy" ice cream craze. I'm writing this review having only tried this flavor, so I'll be reviewing only this flavor in this post.

It's a little disappointing, to be honest. Not terrible. But if I were ranking all the diet ice creams I've ever had, I'd put this offering just below any of the three or four Halo Top flavors I've tried.

The vanilla ice cream isn't particularly vanilla-y, and there aren't nearly enough pieces of cookie dough in the mix. There seemed to be more "chocolaty pieces" than cookie dough chunks, but there weren't even a ton of those. Also, they didn't add much as far as flavor. I wouldn't have minded if they had skipped the chocolaty pieces altogether and simply found a way to put in at least twice as much cookie dough. The cookie dough was my favorite part of this ice cream, but there just wasn't enough of it to rescue the rest of the product.

On a more positive note, the ice cream is indeed surprisingly low in calories and fat, there's a good bit of protein, and it's only $3.69—cheaper than Halo Top by a significant margin, unless you're lucky enough to find it on sale at a grocery store.

The wife wasn't super enthused about eating this ice cream either. We really wanted to love it, but in the end, it's just another diet ice cream. If a pint of ice cream makes it 48 hours in our freezer without being totally consumed, I'd have to say it's probably not that great. This stuff's been here nearly a week.

I give this ice cream 6 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Archer Farms Antioxidant Trail Mix

What? No red wine? No kale?

Still, it's an impressive collection of antioxidant foods, and it doesn't taste half bad either.

Nuts, berries, and dark chocolate might be found in any run-of-the-mill trail mixes, but they also happen to be antioxidant rich. It might be a marketing gimmick, but hey, it worked on me.

There's a good balance of nutty and sweet in here. As usual, there are too many pumpkin seeds, er sorry, "pepitas," but we can forgive this product for that, since there are plenty of almonds and cashews, too.

Honestly, it's a decent mix of all the ingredients. They didn't skimp on any one element. For six bucks, I'd hope they would be generous with everything.

The mix is unsalted. I wouldn't have minded a little sodium, but I won't complain too much since I get plenty in the rest of my diet. I just tend to eat trail mixes when I'm hiking or biking, and in the hot summer, I tend to sweat buckets. I drink plenty of water, but I've gotta recoup that salt somewhere, too.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've reviewed an Archer Farms trail mix. They've always been good quality. The resealable bags are nice, too. This particular mix is on par with the others I've tried in the past.

Six servings seems about right. I guess a dollar per serving isn't a terrible value. The ingredients taste and feel as fresh as any other shelf-stable snack. The wife really liked it as well. I'd definitely consider buying it again.

I give this trail mix 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Simply Balanced Grapefruit Sparkling Water

I may have mentioned this previously, but I used to be heavily addicted to soda. When I was just out of college, jobless, paying off student debt, and not yet living the dream that I am now, I did all my grocery shopping at the nearby Walmart. Now I only do 85% of my shopping at Walmart—and the rest at Target, obviously. Walmart Supercenter groceries are dirt cheap. A flat of 32 Dr. Thunders was just around $3 and some change. Each can was less than ten cents. I did the math. It was actually cheaper than water. Okay, maybe not cheaper than tap water, but tap is bad for you anyway.

Long story short: in those days, I drank more Dr. Thunder than water because it was cost effective.

But then I got obese and my digestive system no longer functioned thanks to high fructose corn syrup overload. So I slowly switched to diet sodas. I was slightly less fat, but the beverages were still wreaking havoc on my system—all that aspartame lowered my IQ a few notches and gave me chronic headaches.

I knew regular old water wasn't going to take the place of my nasty soda habit, so I tried sparkling water. I'd sampled my parents' Perrier as a kid and didn't mind it, so I started checking out all different brands. Now I'm a connoisseur of fine sparkling mineral waters. Aside from the fancy stuff like Perrier and San Pellegrino, I highly recommend Polar brand, too. Trader Joe's also carries some good sparkling water. So how does this offering from Target compare?

It's in the middle somewhere. The grapefruit flavor comes through nicely, but I feel like it leaves a slight unpleasant aftertaste. The cans are very convenient (eight 12oz cans) but I feel like the packaging is overly "girly." In general, the Simply Balanced line tends to give off a feminine vibe, but whatever. I keep telling myself I'm comfortable with my masculinity. I just wish their stuff were a little more gender neutral sometimes.

But I digress. I paid $2.50 for the box. It's not a bad value at all, but I think they were on clearance or something. Not sure what their original price might have been. Ah, look at that. $2.99 on What score shall we bestow this refreshing beverage with today? A seven, methinks.

Final score: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Market Pantry Banana Fudge Soft Baked Breakfast Bars

It's been forever since I made a Target run. There just aren't many Target locations convenient to this part of South Jersey. In fact, our closest Target is in another state. I'd even go so far as to say that both Delaware and Pennsylvania have Targets that are easier for us to get to than our closest, most convenient location here in the Garden State. Of course, crossing the Delaware River involves a toll, so every once in a while, we brave the chaotic Camden/Cherry Hill traffic and head up towards Deptford or Sewell.

But this fun little breakfast find came from Christiana, Delaware. There's something odd about the food section of the Target there. No matter how crowded that mall gets—and it gets hella crowded on weekends—the food section there in Target looks like a ghost town. I mean, there's always food on the shelves, and as far as I can tell, nothing's expired. There's just something uninviting about it that I can't put my finger on. Nevertheless, I popped in and zig-zagged up and down the quiet aisles looking for something to snack on/review on my last adventure in The First State, and I found these interesting "soft-baked" bars.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, they're basically off-brand Nutri-Grain bars with banana fudge filling. We've seen something similar from Target in recent memory. Why that previous selection was "Simply Balanced" and these are "Market Pantry," I'm not quite sure. Maybe fudge is too indulgent for the "Simply Balanced" moniker..? Also, there's a pretty significant price discrepancy. The Simply Balanced offering was $2.99 a box. This product only cost me $1.39. They might have been on some kind of mark-down, but I didn't notice a special price tag next to the item. $1.39 is pretty cheap for something like this. I've never seen Nutri-Grains come close to that, even with coupons.

The bars are indeed soft. There's a good bit of fudge in the middle, too. I'd prefer a little less breading and a little more banana. As it is, there are just teeny-tiny little wads of banana hiding among the chocolatey center of the bars. The breading, though soft, makes the product seem drier than it really is. A bit less of the grain and a bit more of the fruit would go a long ways for both the flavor and texture of this product. As it is, it's not bad, and I'd absolutely consider a repeat-purchase—especially if they stay at that low price.

I give these breakfast bars 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Archer Farms Cinnamon Hot Cocoa Mix

If you've never tried Mexican hot chocolate, please go do so immediately. It's worth checking out. One brand to look for would be Abuelita, available pretty universally in the US nowadays. I think it's even available at Target stores.

I mean, this offering is pretty close flavor-wise, but it's less spicy and more sweet. That combo might appeal to many of you, but I'm partial to the original—although this stuff is nothing to complain about.

This is one of the few hot chocolates that actually tell you to "add milk." I mean, we always use milk or almond milk anyway, but the instructions generally say "just add water" as if milk is too fattening or expensive or scarce that most people simply don't have any on hand. I appreciate the honesty here. What kind of person adds water to his hot chocolate?

But milk is perfect here. It yields a creamy, flavorful mix, with a detectable amount of cinnamon. It's not overly or unpleasantly sweet, but I'd say it's nearer the sweet end of the hot chocolate spectrum. It's definitely not a "dark chocolate" type flavor here, and that's just fine with me.

The wifey grew up on Mexican hot chocolate, and she'll still take Abuelita over Archer Farms brand in most cases, but she thoroughly enjoyed this product as well. It's a great Valentine's treat—or perfect for keeping warm on a cold winter day. We both just wish it had a bit more kick from cinnamon and spice.

$3.99 for eight packets. Fifty cents a cup, plus the cost of milk isn't too bad at all.

I think this product is worthy of 9 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Archer Farms S'mores Granola

Ah, s'mores. Nothing brings to mind camping, ghost stories, the smell of wood smoke, and fond memories of boyhood like s'mores. And now it's a cereal at your local Target.

Dessert for breakfast. I love it. Carbs to keep you going throughout the day, spiked with sugar to jump-start your heart and get your sleepy head in the game.

If you're hoping for a breakfast that tastes exactly like a real s'more, you might be slightly disappointed here. There's not a lot of that graham crackery flavor in this breakfast cereal. It's more like granola with some cocoa-flavored pieces and mini marshmallows—the kind that you find in certain packets of instant hot cocoa. It's sweet, it's crunchy, and there's enough sugar and chocolate left in your milk at the end of the bowl to make it super-chuggable.

My wife loved this even more than I did. She thought there'd be too much chocolate flavor (is that even possible?) but was pleasantly surprised at how "well-balanced" the flavor was.

I just wish there were actual bits of graham cracker in the mix. The granola is fine and provides a good base for the cereal, but in my humble opinion, it's not grahammy enough to be authentically s'morey. Still a very tasty product.

I give this granola 8 out of 10 stars.

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