Review: UNREAL “Unjunked” Candy

I hosted book club last night. Like most ladies of a certain age around here, I love my book club. Book clubs are like sororities for middle aged women: they’re not always easy to break into, and it’s important to choose the right one. Or, in my case, be chosen by the right one. Our appreciation for a good book is only exceeded by our appreciation for good gossip, naughty food, and a glass of wine or two three four.

Even though I’ve known many of these ladies for years, I wasn’t invited into the book club until fairly recently, which I completely understand. I, of all people, respect the importance of limiting size, the right kind of chemistry, etc. I think we’ve all had our negative group experiences in the past, and one can’t be too careful about messing around with the balance of a successful group.

When I went to my first meeting at the Mayonnaise Heiress’s house, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Uh oh, I thought, I am in over my head! I’ve been to weddings with far inferior food and wine than this (ahem, none of my friends, of course). I learned that some people go all out and some people really go all out, but a certain standard exists, and I’d better be up for the challenge. If it means tapping into my home equity line of credit to buy the wine, so be it.

Even though I obviously like to cook, I’ve learned not to be a martyr. I try to have a few special homemade items, and then I supplement with some easy packaged or prepared items (chips, things for the candy dish, etc.). I was all set to go with Lindor truffles and an assortment of Hershey products when I found this in BJ’s: UNREAL Unjunked Candy.

Basically, it’s a makeover of all of our favorite candy: M&Ms, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. While it isn’t healthy, it isn’t quite as junky. Below is the explanation from their website:

Adam was so inspired by the mission of changing junk food that he immediately brought together top scientists and chefs all across Europe to recreate America’s biggest selling candies, without the junk. Along the way Nicky and Adam developed UNREAL™’s mantra:  “Unjunk™!”  Corn syrup?  Out.  Partially hydrogenated oils?  Out.  GMOs?  Out.  Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives?  Out. Reduced sugar by over 40% per serving on average?  Check. They also decided key ingredients needed to be responsibly sourced, supporting farming communities and preventing destruction of the rain forests. All ingredients needed to be non GMO.  Dairy needed to come from pasture raised cows with no antibiotics or added hormones.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do for people and the planet.

But the real question, of course, is how does it taste? I bought the M&Ms and the peanut butter cups, and both were a big hit with my kids and with my book club friends. It probably goes without saying that the flavor is not exactly the same — not worse, just different. If you are expecting an identical substitute, it will taste “off.” But if you are expecting a yummy, unjunky, chocolatey treat, you won’t be disappointed.

My favorite part is from an aesthetic standpoint. The colors, dyed with beetroot juice, turmeric root extract, and purple cabbage juice, are absolutely stunning. These are high class M&M’s worthy of the most discriminating book clubs.



Diet: Week 2, or Stone Cold Sober Book Club

I survived week one of my competitive diet, although I have the sad distinction of earning the lowest number of points on my team, and my team has the sad distinction of being in last place — probably entirely due to me. Sorry, Team 3! Not sure if I mentioned this before or not, but I HATE LOSING. The really sad part is I was quite pleased with my performance until I saw the scores. I didn’t realize I’d be competing with perfect people who earned perfect scores. The poor sport in me wants to call them all liars with dicey accounting practices, but the lady in me just says, “Nice work!”

In any event, I need to up my game. As we’ve established, alcohol is only permitted one day a week, and this week, I’ve decided to choose alcohol on Saturday for a variety of reasons not just because my mother is visiting for a few days. That meant that last night I got to experience book club in a new and exciting way for the first time ever. I believe the word I’m looking for is “sobriety.” It was so weird, like I was in another country and couldn’t quite grasp the nuances of the foreign language they were speaking. I could understand everyone, but I couldn’t really understand everyone, if you know what I’m saying. But fortunately for me, my book club is comprised of smart, funny, interesting women who don’t require the consumption of alcohol in order to be appreciated…although I won’t lie — everything is more fun after a few glasses of wine.

I did, however, use my weekly allotted “meal off” so I could enjoy all the fabulous food. And enjoy it I did! My friend Amy always goes above and beyond in providing book club goodies, and there was NO WAY I was going to miss out on that. I was so excited that she made our friend Lauren’s famous spinach and artichoke dip. I secretly suspect that Lauren is a Helllmann’s mayonnaise heiress, because whenever you ask her about her recipes, she insists that you only make it with real Hellmann’s mayonnaise. The only change I made was using fresh baby spinach instead of frozen spinach (too mushy and too hard to fully drain, in my opinion) because I think that works out better. Yes, I realize artichoke dips are a dime a dozen, especially at book clubs, but this the best one I ever had.

Lauren’s Famous Artichoke Dip

1 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp Tabasco
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 cups Hellmann’s mayo
1/2 bag of baby spinach, chopped
1 can artichoke drained and “mushed”

Mix. Bake at 350 for 45 min