REVIEW: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's

At what point should we start to be concerned that the usually delicious array of autumnal-inspired treats and sweets are becoming a victim of their own lofty standards?

Up until recently I was inclined to say never. I mean, when unlikely superstars like Pumpkin Pie Pringles and Candy Corn Oreo augment standbys like apple cider donuts and pumpkin spice cookies, fall products have earned a reputation as reliable as the leaves hitting the ground each September and October. It’s part of what makes this time of the year so special for food lovers, and no doubt the reason Walmarts and Targets everywhere rush in the latest creations of mass-produced seasonality earlier and earlier each year.

Now though, I’m not so sure if every apple or pumpkin product will be a hit. My doubts started last year with the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, and have been confirmed by the new Candy Apple M&M’s.

That’s right; even graced by the seductive presence of a high risk spokeswoman, there’s nothing particularly memorable or sexy about the new Candy Apple M&M’s. And there’s definitely nothing candy apple or autumnal about the flavor.

It shouldn’t have been this way. On first inspection, it sounds like a brilliant idea; the perfect marriage of cloyingly sweet and sticky hard shell coating and mellow milk chocolate paired with the prerequisite cinnamon spice for depth and artificial apple tartness for, well, tartness. Dare I say, they could have even thrown some caramel in there, and heck, why not peanuts? Granted it’s difficult to execute the ultimate nightmare for dentists in something less than the size of a quarter, but c’mon, this is M&M’s people. I mean, they stuck a friggin’ pretzel between chocolate and shell. That’s like sending a man to the moon compared with developing the simple flavors of a candy apple.

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's Closeup

Alas, it was not to be. The only things vaguely reminiscent of a candy apple in these M&M’s are the color and shape. Upon first taste a vague notion of cinnamon spice, more reminiscent of hot cinnamon candies than tart Granny Smith encased in hardened syrup, inhabits the candy coating. At least, I think its cinnamon. Come to think of it, maybe its clove, or perhaps nutmeg or ginger. Yes, that’s it, nutmeg and ginger. Almost nonexistent in intensity but there nonetheless, like the imaginary friend I sat with at the lunch table in second grade.

You heard me, imaginary friend.

I pop another M&M in my mouth and I’m starting to question if that cinnamon taste was ever really there, just as I questioned why Teddy my old chum at Rockhill Elementary wouldn’t trade me his Dunkaroos for my carrot sticks (I never did get an answer.) Allowing the M&M to dissolve into a familiar if not pedestrian chocolate flavor, I’m suddenly left with the taste of nothing more than that mild chocolate. Don’t get me wrong; chocolate is great and all (hey, maybe even good for me!) but as I finish the M&M I can’t pick up anything unique or different about these from standard M&M’s. Like the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s there really isn’t much going on here; just chocolate and shell and maybe a little bit of artificial vanilla flavor, combining with that sort of waxy debris of chewed-up M&M that sticks in the nooks and crannies around your molars.

I don’t think I’ve been as frustrated in a fall food product since, well, ever. The worst part about the Candy Apple M&M’s is that they speak to what has really been a series of mediocre limited edition flavors. I’m not just talking about last year’s Pumpkin Spice duds, but also the Red Velvet flavor, and some of the other seasonal spinoffs which seem more package art than taste sensations. Altogether, it’s a disturbing trend for a candy that has had great success with iconic flavors like Mint and Peanut Butter. But perhaps it’s a needed reminder that not every fall-themed sweet can live up to expectations.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Classic M&M’s taste and texture in slightly larger form. Only ten calories per M&M, as opposed to hundreds in an actual candy apple. Always enjoyable M&M’s commercials.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like a candy apple in the least. No tart flavor of apple or sticky sweetness of coating. M&M’s fragments stuck in your molars. Attempted seduction by a chocolate candy. Imaginary friends.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Peeps Donut

Dunkin' Donuts Peeps Donut Peep Donut

7:30 in the morning and fresh from the dusty, diesel-packed streets of the Bowery, I swung into the Dunkin’ Donuts, dodging the heating lamps of hash browns and the baskets of 99 cent danishes. I sought neither the jelly-puffed munchkin nor the swirls in the Butter Pecan Latte. Nay, I came for one thing and one thing alone: a torus-shaped chunk of fried dough topped with an artificially colored marshmallow.

Dunkin' Donuts Peeps Donut Smooshed Peep face

Is it a chicken? A warbler? An artist’s interpretation of a Saffron Finch? Much like the Hero’s Journey to the center of the Tootsie Roll, the world may never know what the true breed the Peep “chickadee” is (then again, I’m not a very good ethnographer). What I do know is that each little plop of Dunkin’s dough is topped with one of these aviary escapees, not to mention being doused in a glaze of sugar and artificial colors, which reminds me of Fruity Pebbles, which reminds me of Childhood Joy. So it stands to conclude that this doughnut is made out of Joy, right?

Dunkin' Donuts Peeps Donut Sawdust cake

The doughnut comes out with all the vibrancy of a Lisa Frank commercial and its 21 grams of sugar gives an equally vibrant kick in the pants. As hoped for, the anticipated sugar glaze hits first, tasting of little more than the joy of refined, gritty sugary-ness with a hint of vanilla extract. It’s layered on moderately thick and there’s a little crunch as you bite into the softened glaze as it softens and dissolves into a gritty, sweet mess (the best mess there is). This fructose-laden rainbow-brick-road paves the way as you chomp towards the epicenter that is the Peep. You have the option to eat your Peep as you choose. Just remember: that special feeling that comes with chomping the head of a Peep? No one can take that away from you.

Dunkin' Donuts Peeps Donut One day, this Peep's ghost will seek vengeance on me

The speed bump in the sugary journey came as I bit into the piece of yeast dough. Dry. Pasty. Stiff. This was not Joy. “Did I come in on a bad morning?” I asked myself. “Is the fryer on the fritz? Has a ill-willed goblin from the 7th dimension taken over the Dunkin’ Donut kitchen? BAH! How do I handle ill-willed goblins? What do they have against doughnuts? And how will I be able to attain a mass-marketed piece of adequately fried dough in light of my incapacity to handle a species I’ve yet to understand?”

These questions were left unanswered as I gnawed my way to the center of the dry piece of bread, each bite bringing only more disappointment. Sure, I always hope for a sugary, dense cake, but even a slightly fresh, modestly moist cake will do. I’ve even been known to take day-old doughnuts and plop them in the microwave to give ‘em a little kick in the fluff. But this? This was overcooked, even cottony, tasting more like stale Wonder Bread. Wonder Bread tossed in sawdust. Combined with the Peep and it was like chomping a slightly stretchy piece of sugar-coated Styrofoam, the little crumbs of dried out cake spewing dried-out shrapnel every which way. Perhaps a slightly denser cake doughnut may have stood the test better? I don’t know, but I fear this one just didn’t cut it for me.

Thankfully, I had a hot chocolate at the ready because what goes better with a bird-shaped marshmallow than a frothy beverage of molten cocoa? I would suggest you consider doing the same: grab yourself a coffee, a Cookie Dough Coolata, whatever joe suits your fancy. While dry on its own, the pastry makes excellent dunking material (this is Dunkin’ after all). The beverage adds a bitter, sharp bite to the sugar onslaught while filling in the nooks of hardened dough with a little bit of moisture and caffeine. You will be happy. Your Peep will be happy. The goblins of the 7th dimension will be happy.

Dunkin' Donuts Peeps Donut Peep protects its territory

Have a sweet tooth? Or ten? Do all of them crave straight sugar laced with sugar that tastes of sugar on a dry piece of bread? If you answered yes to all of the above, the Peeps doughnut is here for you. While I admire the seasonal charm, the colors threaten to blind your sensitive eyeballs and the dry cake is just blee-blah-bloo. In the future, I’ll steer clear of this one, but again…seasonal. It’s a good idea, DD, but I spoke to the Easter bunny this weekend and he told me he’s looking for a Girl Scout Cookie doughnut to deliver next year. So how ‘bout it Dunkin’: Will you heed the bunny’s call?

(Nutrition Facts – 310 calories, 130 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 21 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Peeps Donut
Purchased Price: $1.09
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Corn syrup! Fructose! Bright colors! Slight crunch from the glaze. Poofy marshmallow. Stretchy marshmallow. Marshmallow dunked in hot chocolate. Childhood Joy.
Cons: Bright colors may result in blindness. Dry dough. Stale Wonder Bread tossed in sawdust. Still wondering: how many licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Goblins of the 7th dimension. Me not being a good ethnographer.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Waffle Taco (Bacon and Sausage)

Taco Bell Waffle Tacos

Let’s face it. The only thing most of you care about on Taco Bell’s breakfast menu is their Waffle Taco, because almost everything else consists of the same ingredients in a flour tortilla.

Begin sarcasm.

A flour tortilla taco with bacon, eggs, and cheese! Ooooh! A flour tortilla burrito with sausage, egg, and cheese! Wonderful! Sausage, egg, cheese, and hash browns wrapped in a flour tortilla! Whoa!

End sarcasm.

Taco Bell Waffle Taco Box

While Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco also contains scrambled eggs, cheese, and either bacon or sausage, it delivers them in something that is definitely not a flour tortilla — a five-inch round waffle that’s curved like a taco. And all of that comes in a container with the words, “Right now I’m eating a Waffle Taco and you’re not,” which, when holding the box in public, kind of makes me look like an asshole. Thanks, Taco Bell!

You have the option of having your Waffle Taco come with either bacon or a sausage patty. But if you also have the option of eating breakfast somewhere else, I’d take that option because both are horribly disappointing. But if you don’t have that third option, go for the sausage because it’s slightly better tasting than the bacon, which are chewy little bits of pork that have very little bacon flavor.

Taco Bell Bacon Waffle Taco

It’s really frustrating to see Taco Bell go the bacon bits route, but it’s even more frustrating that they didn’t go with a better bacon. Over the past few years, many of the big fast food chains have upgraded their bacon from chewy, almost flavorless slices that don’t deserve to be called bacon to thick, savory, and sometimes crispy slices of Applewood smoked bacon. Those fast food chains are at Bacon 2.0, while Taco Bell settled with Bacon 1.0.

Taco Bell Sausage Waffle Taco

As I mentioned earlier, the sausage patty is slightly better. But that advantage is similar to drowning and drowning while being circled by sharks. While it does spoon very nicely with the curved waffle, it’s not seasoned very well, allowing its flavor to be easily masked by the syrup, which comes in a container that looks small, but contains more than enough sticky stuff to dump on your breakfast taco. There’s nothing special about the syrup’s flavor; it’s just generic pancake syrup. However, I found that the more I used, the greater the number of napkins I needed. This might explain one of the reasons why it comes in a box, instead of a paper wrapper. I guess the box not only helps keep the waffle from laying flat, it’s also a syrup drip catcher.

One of the characteristics that makes a waffle a waffle is its crispy exterior, but this waffle is disappointingly floppy and soft, which Taco Bell will probably claim has never happened before, doesn’t know what’s wrong, and definitely thinks you’re sexy. But I guess it has to be floppy if it’s going to be folded like that. The eggs are fluffish, but are more bland than the bacon and sausage. A little butteriness would’ve helped. As for the cheese…yeah, that’s not going to make a difference.

For something that’s been tested for almost a year, I’m surprised by how bad these Taco Bell Waffle Tacos are. They’re supposed to hit your jaw with the 1-2 combo of sweet and savory, but it’s mostly sweet. Even without the syrup, the savory is seriously missing. I’ll admit, they don’t lack imagination, but they do lack flavor.

(Nutrition Facts – Bacon – 320 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of protein. Sausage – 370 calories, 210 calories from fat, 23 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 115 milligrams of cholesterol, 550 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. .)

Item: Taco Bell Waffle Taco (Bacon and Sausage)
Purchased Price: $2.79*
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Bacon)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Sausage)
Pros: Most interesting item on the Taco Bell breakfast menu. Syrup container might be small, but there’s more than enough syrup for one waffle taco. Sausage version is slightly better than the bacon one.
Cons: Soft and floppy waffle; not crispy at all. Sausage and bacon have very little flavor. Eggs could’ve used some butteriness. Mostly sweet, very little savory. Box it comes in makes me feel like a douchebag. Messy.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

QUICK REVIEW: Lean Cuisine Morning Collection Wild Blueberry & Pomegranate Oatmeal

Lean Cuisine Morning Collection Wild Blueberry & Pomegranate Oatmeal

Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 2 pack
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Filling. Great…if you’re desperate. Makes a decent hand warmer. Warms my innards. Low fat. Contains ingredients I can easily pronounce.
Cons: Provides just 2 grams of fiber (competing products offer 5 grams and fast food oatmeal offers at least 5 grams). Blueberry flavor is too mild. Pomegranate flavor is non-existent. End result after following microwaving instructions looks like I melted Grimace. Not a very good way to start one’s morning.

Lean Cuisine Morning Collection Wild Blueberry & Pomegranate Oatmeal Closeup

Nutrition Facts: 160 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 220 milligrams of potassium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte

I have personally ordered maybe four different things at a Starbucks in my lifetime. This is not because I never go to Starbucks, but because I find myself with a crippling stammer and irrational fear every time I approach the register.

My method was usually to ask a friend to order for me, and then order whatever they gave me for the next three years if it was good. I am consistently tempted to ask for a mocha-chocalata-yaya and see what comes out. Forget the “secret menu” guides all over the Internet. I need a manual for navigating the printed one.

The problem is, I can’t really bring myself to like black coffee. I love the smell. I love the energy. I love the idea of permanently staining my teeth in rebellion against my body at a young age. But every time I have a cup I cringe a little and leave most of it sitting there. And, being an ignorant novice coffee drinker, I don’t know how to make anything but black coffee. I’m not sophisticated enough to like the coffee I can make at home, but I’m too afraid to learn how to order anything I might actually like.

I dreamed that these Starbucks Via Lattes would fill this void. I could finally learn to drink a morning coffee like a real adult without having to embarrass myself in front of a barista. The idea of not having to put on pants to get said morning coffee was equally appealing.

I purchased an individual trial pack at Starbucks for a dollar, choosing to try the vanilla over the mocha. I was first shocked by the size of these. They are not your normal instant coffee packet, but probably four times larger.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Instructions

The instructions are pretty minimal, but include a little infographic that tells you what to do. It seemed pretty straight forward, and I do have a high school diploma, so I assumed I had it under control. I made a cup of hot water with a Keurig machine, dumped the packet in, and stirred. It was not until I finished making it that I realized I was not supposed to pour the powder into the boiling water. So maybe words would’ve been helpful.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Powder

I was then surprised by the color. There did not appear to be any coffee granules at all in this pouch. Instead, there was an endless stream of a powdery white substance. Although many do refer to coffee as their crack, so maybe this makes some sense.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Closeup

This drink was really sweet. And not in the good way of “hot chocolate sweet” or “vanilla milkshake sweet.” It was like a cup of hot, watery milk with six packets of sugar. I was even hoping some more coffee taste would come through, but it was nonexistent. Since the ingredients list both dairy powder and sugar before coffee, I probably should have expected this. But if even I am wishing for some stronger coffee flavor, you know you’ve taken it too far.

I could not finish this. It was intolerably sweet, and this is coming from the girl who will treat frosting as a cookie dip and add extra Oreos to cookies and cream ice cream. Maybe if iced and blended this could make a decent at home Frappuccino? But that seems like far too much work for something coming from an instant package.

This did not solve my coffee dilemmas. My only hope at this point is that Starbucks starts up a delivery service with a tracker like Domino’s so I can order my coffee online without human interaction and know when to put my pants on before it arrives. Until then, you will find me drinking one of my four safe things at Starbucks, dreaming of the day I can join the elite ranks of the people who know how to order drinks with names that take a full minute to say.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 packet – 130 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte
Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: 1 packet
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: At home convenience. Simple assembly. Generous serving. Not any more sugar than most Starbucks drinks. Confusing baristas with Moulin Rouge references. Good movie stunt double for cocaine. Potential for fancier at home drinks. No pants, still service.
Cons: Sickly sweet. Impossible to drink whole cup. Minimal coffee taste. All powdered milk and sugar. Not being able to read picture instructions as an adult. Lack of coffee aroma. Domino’s Pizza Tracker not expanding to other businesses.