Category Archives: food

Wildcard Wednesday: Blaze Pizza

Blaze PizzaI’ve been pretty diligent about this whole diet and exercise thing. I actually started it in August. Between August and October I managed to lose about 10 pounds, which while far from my goal, was a nice start. Then, I went on vacation to see my best friend, which meant a lot of eating out at our favorite places. Then I got back to work and had a lot of work to day and got myself stressed, which meant a bit more eating and less working out. While I only gained two pounds back, I was not keeping track of my calories and was hardly making it to the gym.

When my husband got a new job and a free membership to Life Time Fitness, I decided to check it out. I really liked it, especially since it has two amazing pools and childcare included in the membership cost. So, by mid-December, I was back in the gym. Of the 24 days of December that I was trying out/a member of the gym, I made it in 12 times, which I thought was pretty good.

About a week before the end of the year, I decided that exercise alone was not going to cut it, so I also cut back on calories. I logged back into My Fitness Pal and started tracking. I was giving this thing my all.

So far in the 17 days of January, I’ve been to the gym 13 times and I’ve yet to go over my 1400 calorie limit. I’m down four pounds and feeling pretty good about life.

As part of this new routine, I’ve been cooking a lot more, which is really important since I have total control over ingredients and therefore calories. However, every now and then I need a break from the kitchen.

This past weekend we were out running a bunch of errands and found ourselves a bit far from our house at lunch time. Looking around, I noticed a Blaze Pizza and decided it would be a great option for lunch. We’ve been to Blaze several times and really like it. If you’ve never been, it’s sort of the Subway of pizza joints. My kids love being able to custom build their own pizzas, even if it sometimes means some questionable combinations. When given the chance at unlimited toppings, my son goes a bit mad with power. My daughter sticks more to the basics: cheese pizza.

Aside from liking the actual taste of Blaze Pizza, I really like that I can control what goes on it and make sensible choices. As much as I like ooey-gooey, super fatty cheesy pepperoni pizza, I can also appreciate a healthier option. I also really love that Blaze has a great nutrition calculator so I can see what my toppings will cost me.

For my most recent Blaze creation, I started with the standard, fairly thin crust, which has 420 calories for the entire pizza. I added the red sauce, which is another 30 calories for the entire pizza. I topped it with goat cheese instead of the standard mozzarella. This adds only 100 calories instead of 220. I skipped meat to avoid extra fat and calories and instead loaded it with veggies. I stacked on spinach, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, artichokes and roasted squash. All together, each piece had about 95 calories, so 3 pieces was not only filling, but also under 300 calories (and only 6 grams of fat). Not at all bad for lunch, right?

Most importantly, it tasted fantastic and since each pizza has 6 slices, I have another healthy lunch for tomorrow. Everyone in the family was satisfied and I didn’t have to spend any extra time on the Arc trainer (although I did).

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Chocolate Monday: Vanilla Rooibos Tea

I first found Vosges while exploring Armitage Street in Chicago. I wasn’t looking for a chocolate shop. My mission was to visit the local LUSH store to stock up on much needed hair and skin care products. However, as my best friend and I strolled down the street, we found not one, but two fantastic chocolate shops. Sadly the first one, Ethel M’s closed down only a few years after we found it. The company itself is still in business, but the Chicago store closed and they also stopped selling the majority of the truffles and filled treats I love. When I found them again in Vegas years later, they had less than half the stock of the Chicago store.

Luckily Vosges not only stayed on Armitage for our yearly visit, but they spread their stocks wider and wider so that even my local Kroger now sells a variety of their chocolate bars. My only real issue with Vosges is that their stock tends to be overwhelmingly dark chocolate and try as I might, I just don’t like dark chocolate as much as its lovely milk cousin. However, I have found that their 45% dark milk chocolate is very tasty.

I especially enjoy it in their Vanilla Rooibos Tea bar. This bar is a wonderful combination of dark milk chocolate, rooibos tea and tart cherries. Just about anything with cherries, especially with dried tart cherries, has my heart. I love cherries in just about any form they take. I especially love them in this bar.

The chocolate definitely has a dark hint to it. It is not smooth and creamy exactly. It has a tiny bit of bitterness to it that could be off putting if not for the the lovely tartness of the cherries. The cherries not only add a bright burst of sweet to help temper the bitterness of the chocolate, but they also add a great texture to the bar. That texture is enhanced by the slightly crunchy bits of tea. Although tea can add bitterness to some candies, either the chocolate masks it in this case or it simply isn’t here. The only bitterness I find is in the actual chocolate.

This is a delightful bit of dark chocolate and I not only like it, but seek it out.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 6/10
Value: 7/10 (at $8 a bar, it is pricey, so it’s definitely a treat)

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Chocolate Monday: Halo Top Light Ice Cream

halo openOk, let’s be honest, it’s not exactly ice cream. Not in a traditional, super creamy, super indulgent, super delicious sort of way. Then again, anyone who expects to get all that creamy, fatty goodness for only 250 calories per pint is obviously living in an alternate universe.

Although Halo Top has been out for a lot longer than I realized (2012), it’s only been in the last year or so that it has skyrocketed to popularity. According to Wikipedia, in July of 2016, it became the best selling ice cream in supermarkets, even beating out Ben & Jerry’s, which I’ll admit I found hard to believe. While I like Halo Top, if given the choice, I would reach for Ben & Jerry’s over it every single time.

Once you get passed the fact that Halo Top is not going to taste like its full fat cousins, it’s actually pretty good. Especially considering that an entire pint ranges from about 240-360 calories. Considering that the same calorie content for Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen-Daz or most other ice creams is only about 1/4 of a pint, it suddenly explains the appeal.

halo 3I’ve only tried five flavors of Halo Top so far and just like with real ice cream, I’ve had varying degrees of happiness with them. My absolute favorite flavor so far has been the oatmeal cookie one. It legitimately tastes like a frozen oatmeal cookie. It reminds me a bit of the now defunct Dreamery Ice Cream flavor I used to love called Grandma’s Cookie Jar. It had several different bits of cookie dough in it, but my favorite were the bits of oatmeal raisin cookie dough. This particular pint of Halo Top has only 280 calories. I love the sweet oatiness of it, however, I will admit that while the bits of oats mixed in the ice cream definitely give it an authenticity, I’m not a fan of the texture of them. They taste like uncooked oats. There may not be enough of them to make the ice cream chewy, but they do give it a fibrous texture that I wish it didn’t have. Still the taste and low calorie count are enough for me to overlook it.

The chocolate almond ice cream reminds me of a Wendy’s Frosty, especially if you let it get just a tad bit melty. It’s not as rich and creamy as a Frosty. The texture is also not quite right for one, but it has that same chocolatey flavor of one. Plus, only 320 calories for the entire pint, which is less than one large Frosty.

Birthday cake is good, but really, really sweet. It reminds me a bit more of birthday cake frosting than of the actual cake. When I first tried it, I only ate a few bites and thought I might give it to my kids to finish off. They are far less picky about anything sweet and are always just as happy with a Hershey bar as they are gourmet truffles, so whenever I come across a type of chocolate (or ice cream) I don’t like, I pawn it off on them and they are thrilled. Before I got to give it to them, I found myself craving something sweet, so I tried it again. This time I found it more palatable. Still, there is no way I could eat an entire pint of it the way I could the oatmeal cookie version. I ended up breaking this one (and chocolate almond) into thirds. If you are a fan of the overly sweet vanilla cake frosting grocery store bakeries put on top of their cakes (the type that is slightly grainy), this is probably a flavor that you’ll love.

Chocolate chip cookie dough had a lot more vanilla and a lot less bits of actual cookie dough in it, which was a bit of a let down. But again, considering the entire pint only has 360 calories in it, there would have to be less cookie dough. It actually tastes fairly similar to it’s fattier cousins, but it’s not as creamy and the sweetness it has tastes just a bit more artificial.

The only flavor I absolutely despised, and this is not a term I use lightly, was the mint chocolate chip. This was such a HUGE upset to me as mint chocolate chip ice cream is one of my absolute joys in life. I even love mint chocolate chip frozen yogurt. From my earliest experiences of York Peppermint patties, to my absolute adoration of Andes mints to my local Baskin Robbins, mint chocolate chip is always a go to for me. This one though…I got through three bites and had to stop. I put it away and hoped against hope that I would grow to like it as I had birthday cake. But alas, it was not to be. The mint in his was so overpowering that it felt like I was drinking straight peppermint oil. It actually reminded me of the peppermint oil one of my students used to use every day in class to help calm her down and keep her from having panic attacks. It did not seem like a mint that was meant to be eaten, but rather one that should be used as part of a soothing massage. I didn’t even give it to my kids because it was so artificial tasting and so gross.

Despite that bad experience, I know that since I have rededicated myself to eating healthier and exercising more, I will be back to grabbing pints of Halo Top to help satisfy my sweet tooth. There are still several varieties I’d like to try. My hope is that mint chocolate chip will be a fluke.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Value: 6/10
Appearance: 7/10

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva Petit Fours

godiva petit foursWhen I was a kid, my mom used to get the Swiss Colony and Figi’s catalogs. I would spend hours pouring over the insanely delicious looking chocolate gifts. Of course I wanted to try each and every one. My mom rarely ordered from those catalogs, but every now and again someone would buy our family a gift from them and I would go more than a little gaga over crab flavored cheese dips or garlic summer sausage. My mom would practically start to drool over tiny little cakes called petit fours. I’m not sure if it was the cakes themselves, which came in tons of different varieties or just their adorable tiny nature that also drew me to them, but every year I would hope someone would send them to us.

As an adult I ordered petit fours from both Swiss Colony and Figi’s and while I found them perfectly fine, they were certainly nothing to write home about. To me they seemed far better in glossy catalog pages than in real life. I think it had to do with the mediocre layer of fairly cheap chocolate they were coated in.

However, when I stopped in my local Godiva to see what holiday treasures might be on sale today, I was delighted to find Godiva trying their hand at petit fours and figured I had to give them another chance. Although there were four varieties in the case, I only grabbed two: gingerbread and pistachio.

I decided to try the pistachio one first. Imagine my surprise when instead of finding layers of chocolate and cake, I bit in and found what appeared to be a square truffle! I thought there might be bits of pistachio cake with some chocolate or vanilla cream. But nope, it was basically a creamy pistachio flavored truffley center surrounded in some pretty thick chocolate. Not bad, but not a petit four. Also, not super pistachio flavored. More like hints of pistachio.

I was a bit more prepared for the gingerbread version. It definitely had a warm ginger spice to it. The flavor was far more predominant than its pistachio cousin. It was tempered by some seriously thick layers of chocolate though, which was a bit disappointing to me. I like Godiva’s chocolate, but if I wasn’t going to get some cake, I at least wanted the gingerbread center to be the star of this show and it was, but just barely. It reminded more of a lackluster version of their gingerbread truffle.

This is the third time this year that Godiva has really let me down with their new pieces. This is very disappointing since they used to be one of my favorite chocolate companies.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10
Appearance: 6/10
Value: 7/10 (only because they were half off after the holidays)

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Chocolate Monday: Theo’s Gingerbread Spice chocolate bar

Theo's gingerbread close upOn Friday I was out running errands with my kids. We had to stop by Fresh Thyme Market in order to pick up some Albanese gummi bears to send to my best friend in Georgia. One of the most miraculous things about Fresh Thyme is the fact that they sell a wide array of Albanese products. Not only do they have five or six of varieties of their gummy products in bulk, but they also have several of their chocolate covered yummies, including my dearest loves: their double dipped chocolate peanuts and raisins. They are simply delicious. Since I can’t get up North to either of the Albanese stores that often, when I found out Fresh Thyme carries their goodies in bulk, and at great prices, I started stopping by more regularly.

As we made our way into the store, intent only on purchasing some gummies to send to my BFF, I noticed a display with lots of fun holiday goodies. Part of that display contained Theo’s Gingerbread Spice chocolate bar. I’d never tried any of Theo’s chocolate, even though I see it every week in my local Kroger, so I figured this had to be a sign.

I love gingerbread! One of my fondest childhood memories is of my mom making gingerbread at Christmas time. Now, I’m not talking about gingerbread cookies, although I do love those as well. I’m talking about spicy, delicious, moist gingerbread. If you’ve never had it, find yourself a recipe and make it now. It is one of the best cakes out there, especially with a beautiful dollop of Cool Whip on top. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

One year as a tribute to my favorite Christmas classics, I made cake bite versions. While I thought my candy cane was pretty good, my egg nog even tastier and my chocolate fudge version darn near perfect, it was my gingerbread cake bite, dipped in sinful milk chocolate with a tiny white swirl on the top that made me smile the most.

So Theo’s combination of fair trade organic milk chocolate and the spices of gingerbread were a must have.

This is definitely a spicy bar! From the second the chocolate hit my tongue, my mouth was filled with the warmth of nutmeg and cinnamon. As the chocolate continued to melt, I got the tiniest hint of cloves. Thankfully they were not overpowering at all, just a subtle nod to the scent that often pervades the holidays. After my first bite was done, I felt like I still had cinnamon in the back of my throat and my tongue and cheeks tingled a little from the spices. It reminded me a bit of how I feel after I take a large gulp of a spiced chai tea latte.

The chocolate itself is not overly creamy. I think the spices temper it so that instead of getting a milky cocoa, it’s much more about the cinnamon and nutmeg. At one point I got a really clear after taste of nutmeg that was a bit overpowering, but thankfully it dissipated quickly. I like nutmeg, but it can very easily be too much.

This is a good bar, but not one that I can eat too much of at a time, which is definitely good for my waistline! The spice of it really does bring the holidays home for me. It tastes like Christmas.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 9/10 for the wrapper and 6/10 for the actual chocolate
Value: 7/10

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Wildcard Wednesday: Brussel Bytes

Brussiel BytesAfter my workout I stopped in Fresh Thyme to get my daughter some of the vegetarian jerky she likes. It’s been over three weeks now and her desire to be a vegetarian does not seem to be wavering in the least. Her pediatrician is fine with this experiment as long as she gets enough protein and fruits and vegetables and doesn’t become a “carbotarian,” so I’m trying to get as many alternate meat choices as possible.

While I was looking at potential snack foods for her, I spotted one that peaked my interest: Brussel Bytes.

Unlike kale chips, which seem to be the new health food craze, I love Brussels sprouts. They are one of my favorite vegetables, whereas kale is something I only eat if forced to and even then not unless it is flavored into submission. I tried kale chips and could not stomach them. But Brussels sprout chips? That had me intrigued. And even though the ingredient list included kale (along with cashews, carrots, red pepper, coconut nectar and spices), I figured I’d risk it.

I grabbed the cheezy herb flavor, figuring even if I hated them it would be a fun experiment. But I didn’t hate them. Not at all. I actually really like them.

They are made from sprout “leaves” and coated with a a cheesy Italiany herb mix of basil, garlic, rosemary and salt. They have a great crunch to them and somehow remind me of spinach, my absolute favorite vegetable. They don’t have any of the bitterness that is often both Brussels sprouts and kale have, which is delightful.

Despite what the package claims, no chips will be moving over. They aren’t replacing potato chips in my heart and my brain has no illusions that I am actually eating chips. However, the entire package only has 160 calories, 4 grams of fat, 9 carbs, 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, so I don’t feel bad eating the entire bag in one sitting. They may not have tasted as good as a single serving of salt and vinegar chips, but I felt a heck of a lot better about myself after eating them.

I haven’t tried to entice my kids to eat them yet, but they both actually like sprouts, so there is a chance they’ll at least try them. They may even like them.

I definitely want to try chili pumpkin seed flavored ones I saw as well, so I guess another trip to Fresh Thyme will be in order soon.

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Chocolate Monday: Hershey’s Gold Peanuts & Pretzels

Hershey's gold barWhile dropping off my daughter’s prescription at our local Kroger, I noticed a new candy display. It looked like a Hershey wrapper, but was a strange cream color I am not used to associating with Hershey’s. Low and behold, it was a brand new type: Hershey’s Gold. It claims to be a caramelized creme, which I’ve never really heard of, so I had to try it. Plus, it has peanuts in it, which is a big plus. Peanuts have always been one of my absolute favorite snack foods.

This bar also boasts pretzels and while I am not usually a huge fan of chocolate covered pretzels, when I was in college I worked at a knock off Hallmark store and we sold these amazing white chocolate pretzel candies that were very pointy and “cluster” looking, but that tasted like creamy dreamy heaven. Even though this bar claimed to be caramel and not white chocolate, I thought it might be similar, so I gave in.

Hershey's Gold pieceIf you’re looking for a strong caramel flavor, this isn’t the bar for you. It has caramel hints at best. And really, it just sort of has a milky, creamy, buttery flavor. It’s not really distinctly anything–except salty.

The salty, which comes mostly from the pretzels is not so overwhelming as to make it inedible, but it is strongly there. It kept catching me in the back of my mouth as I finished up each bite. The peanut bits combined with the pretzels add a nice crunch the bar, but not tons of peanuty flavor.

Aside from the pretzel (and again, the salt), none of the flavors really stand out. It’s just sort of a sweet and salty hodge podge. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at the back touts that “sweet meets salty, creamy meets crunchy.” And really, that is the best way to describe the bar. A sort of nondescript sweet and salty flavor. It’s not bad, but I find it a bit unsettling that I can’t describe it any better.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 5/10 (I find the color a bit unsettling too)
Value: 4/10 (it was more expensive than its regular Hershey brethren, which I also find unsettling).

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