Review: Combat Crunch Cookies and Cream bar

Cookies and Cream has become a mainstream protein bar flavor, and is usually a successful one. Who doesn’t like Oreos (other than, say, Donald Trump). I’ve posted before how Clmbat Crunch bars are generally one of the better ones on the market. Unfortunately, their Cookies and Cream flavor is not one of the better options. 

The flavor is reasonable, but the problem is the texture. While the trademark crispy top layer is still there, the interior is a bit too tough and chewy. The whole appeal of cookies and cream is the crunch of the cookie, which is wholly lacking here. It’s not a terrible bar, but the other Combat Crunch flavors (with a few exceptions, like Birthday Cake and Chocolate Brownie) are much better. 

Review: Fit Crunch Cookies and Cream

Like the Pure Protein bars, the Fit Crunch bars are small relative to their competition. In contrast, however, they have a more interesting layered construction with different texture. There’s a cookie-like layer, a soft filling layer, and a bit of chew. The bars are sweet and candy-like, but don’t have the artificial chemical sweetener aftertaste that many competitors have. As long as you don’t mind the sweetness and small size, these are one of the better tasting bars on the market.

Review: Mission1 Chocolate Brownie

I have mixed feelings about Mission1 bars. They are relatively balanced nutritionally, not excessively sweet, and have reasonably well-chose flavors. They can also come across as a bit bland and uninspired. The best of the bunch is the Cookies and Cream variety. While a bit on the dry and crumbly side, it avoids the tough and chewy texture that soils so many protein bars, including their own Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor

Chocolate Brownie falls somewhere in between. Others have liked it to a large Tootsie Roll, which is a reasonable description. It is not quite as tough and chewy, but it’s a close call. The dense chocolate flavor is similar, and there is a textural homgeneity that is a bit boring. While the flavor is distinctly chocolate, there is nothing remotely brownie-like in the texture. Pass on this one. 

Review: Combat Crunch Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

Chocolate Peanut Butter is a standard flavor among protein bars, and with good reason. The combination of a chocolate coating with a peanut butter filling is a classic combination from the candy world, and works well most of the time in protein bar format. Combat Crunch’s solution is no different. There is a bit of the protein bar excessive chewiness, but this is offset by a softer coating and a crunchy topping. No one is going to be fooled into thinking that they are eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup: this is far less sweet and the peanut flavor could stand to be a bit stronger. It’s not Combat Crunch’s best flavor, nor is it the worst. It’s a middle of the road standby that is reliable. Like all Combat Crunch bars, it is substantial and filling, despite having a similar nutritional profile to smaller bars.

Review: Grenade Carb Killa Chocolate Cream

Many nutrition bars have silly names, but “Grenade Carb Killa” certainly is in contention for the most ridiculous. The bar itself is also somewhat unusual. Lacking the taffy-like texture of most high protein bars, Grenade is soft and considerably less sweet than its competitors. The flavor is quite mild, perhaps excessively so. The chocolate cream flavor has a layer of soft white filling reminiscent of a very mild cream cheese.  This gives the entire bar a cheesecake-like impression.

I give the bar credit for being different than many others. Of the bars I have sampled, it is closest to the Pure Protein line, but the sweetness is more muted. Unfortunately, so is the flavor. It’s benign, but ultimately not worth a repurchase. 

Review: Combat Crunch Chocolate Brownie bar

This may not be a fair review, but this highlights the risks in potentially low-turnover “limited edition” bars. I purchased two of these bars, and both were by far the worst I have tasted. They were dry, chalky, hard and essentially inedible. Maybe I got a bad batch, but both bars tasted the same. I had to throw them out after two bites. Steer clear. 

Review: Premier Protein Fiber – Peanut Butter Caramel

These Premier Protein bars have a considerably higher sugar content than many of the competition, and this is reflected in the sweetness. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the flavors, and the Peanut Butter Caramel is no exception. Many protein bar flavors are mimicked by other companies, which can lead to some monotony in the choices available. However, Peanut Butter Caramel is not one of them. It is one of the few flavors to offer an interesting combination that does not include chocolate. If you are not a fan of sweet bars, however, you may want to steer clear of this line.

The bars themselves have a bit of a crisp texture along with a soft caramel layer. The taste is very much like that of a traditional candy bar, with only a slight chemical aftertaste.

Review: Pure Protein Chocolate Peanut Butter bar

The Pure Protein bars are dense and compact, considerably smaller than other brands. This version, like most of the others, are soft and easy to chew. The texture is similar to a Three Musketeers bar, and the popular combination of a chocolate coating with a peanut butter filling is well done. They are not excessive sweet, nor do they have a particularly dominating flavor profile. The main drawback is the texture is relatively unexciting, and at times they can have a mild chemical aftertaste. They can also seem a bit unsatisfying given the small size, even when compared with other bars with a similar calorie profile. I would not go out of my way to buy these, but they are reasonable. 

One consideration is that they eschew the trend of including massive amounts of fiber. If you are…sensitive to this issue, it’s worth a consideration.

Homemade Tahini

 Falafel are great to make at home, because they are at their best when fresh and crispy. If I am going to make falafel, I might as well make hummus as well. It’s easy to make, lasts reasonably well, and rounds out a Middle Eastern meal. Homemade hummus is far better than store-bought, but until recently I relied on supermarket tahini. After a little research, I discovered that tahini is shockingly simple to make  at home. The appeal of making a small batch just as needed instead of having a jar sit for months in my refrigerator prompted me to give it a try. 

Tahini is essentially just sesame seeds that have been ground into a paste. All you need is sesame seeds and something that can grind them up. A food processor will likely do a good job, though I have found my mini model doesn’t do as good a job as my full-sized machine (which defeats the purpose, since my goal is to make a small batch.  I recently picked up a Vitamix blender, and this seems tailor-made for the task. I toasted the sesame seeds in a skillet on medium heat for about 5 minutes (until they became fragagrent), stirring frequently. Once cooled, I put them in the Vitamix and quickly cranked up the speed to maximum. Because I was using only 300 g of sesame seeds in a 64-ounce container, I did need to stop and scrape down the sides frequently to ensure contact with the blades; a 32-ounce container might be a better choice for small amounts. Some recipies advocate adding oil, but I have found it unnecessary as long as you grind long enough to release the oil within the seeds. 

Sous Vide Chicken Breasts

For the past several years, I’ve eschewed boneless, skinless chicken breasts (BSCB) for their moister, more flavorful, and probably less-health cousins: boneless, skinless chicken thighs (BSCT). Though some will surely critque the absence of flavor-supplying bones and skin, the reality is that even the….BS variety requires a fair amount of preparation. Though trimmed of the large sections of fat, BSCTs have hidden pockets of chicken fat that can result in an unpleasant surprise for eaters if not removed before cooking. I have become much faster and more effective at locating and excising the culprit yellow-white blobs with kitchen shears, but working with a pile of chicken at a countertop while your hungry family glowers at you from across the kitchen is not an enjoyable way to spend a weeknight.

BSCBs offer the promise of considerably less effort. They are essentially free of internal fat stores, and the small amounts of residual surface fat are typically rendered off during cooking. The problem: chicken breast can easily become dry and stringy during cooking. While brining can help to ameliorate the situation, it detracts from the original promise of reduced prep work and the resulting meet can be a bit waterlogged. Dry brining is superior, but takes more time and, thus, planning.

Inspired by this article, I decided to try a sous vide approach with BSCB and have been amazed by the results. One or two hours at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) results in moist, tender chicken breast that can easily serve as the centerpiece of a main dinner dish with minimal flavoring and preparation. The basic approach involves a simple dusting of kosher salt and pepper (and any other flavors that are desired), sealing in a watertight bag (e.g. with a FoodSaver), and a bath in the water tank. Following the sous vide cooking (which apparently can continue for up to four hours without ill effects, though I have not testing the limits myself), I give the chicken a quick sear in a hot pan with a bit of oil and butter. A roast under a hot broiler works as well. As BSCB tend to be a bit more domed than BSCT, I have found that it helps to pound them in a plastic bag prior to cooking, so they lay more flat in the pan, giving a greater surface area for searing,

The sous vide approach is mind-bogglingly simple. While the flavor will never be identical to BSCT, the saved labor and healthier profile has led to a marked shift in my preferred cut of chicken.