REVIEW: Starbucks Chile Mocha

Starbucks Chile Mocha

Some like it HOT and I am one of those humans.

No, I’m not talking about the 1950’s movie starring Marilyn Monroe, but the Scoville scale. Just in case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about: the Scoville scale measures the heat of a pepper from 0 units (bell peppers) to 16MM units (pure capsaicin). I can realistically only handle up to a habanero (350K units) so I’ve been on a mission to increase my capsaicin tolerance.

Along comes Starbucks’ latest drink innovation, the Chile Mocha. I drink Starbucks religiously (who else spent way too much money on Starbucks for Life) and I like heat. Advertised with “ancho and chile spices” and “for those mornings that need an extra kick,” I expected the Chile Mocha to dazzle my taste buds.

In true Goldilocks-fashion, I had to try all three: the Frappuccino, the hot mocha, and the iced mocha. Unfortunately, the only thing consistent about the three was that they all came with too much whipped cream.

I started with the Frappuccino. Nothing about the Frappuccino tasted like chile or even mocha for that matter. It was so sickeningly sweet that it tasted toffee-like; maybe the barista used the toffee nut syrup instead of Chile Mocha powder. So, heat was nonexistent. I even tried the Spiced Mocha topping on top which looked like straight cayenne/paprika but actually also had sugar crystals mixed in.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 2

The powder fondly reminded me of a less concentrated version of Lucas Mexican Candy. However, cayenne is only 50,000 Scoville and paprika is, if you’re lucky, maybe 100 Scoville units. Instead of ordering the Chile Mocha Frappuccino, I might as well have just ordered a plain ol’ coffee frap for $1 less and 90 less calories.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 3

I moved onto the iced mocha next. I was immediately a little off-put by the powder sitting at the bottom of the drink. I tried mixing it but the powder at the bottom was just out of straw reach. After my first couple of sips, I felt a very slight warming/heat sensation in the back of my throat. FINALLY!

However, it was short-lived as it quickly neutralized. While the iced mocha was a little more coffee-forward, it still erred on the too-sweet side. Disappointed, I proceeded to eat the whipped cream with tasty wannabe Lucas Mexican Candy power and left the rest of the drink.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 4

Lastly, the hot mocha. At this point, my high expectations were demolished. But, the fact that my first sip actually tasted like a mocha was a great start. Unlike the iced mocha, the heat actually built up. At first, I thought it was way too subtle but as I drank more, I concluded that this level of heat probably works for people not trying to burn off their taste buds (unlike me). If it were any spicier, it would likely be too spicy for some folks. I also really enjoyed the temperature contrast of the cold whipped cream with the hot mocha.

Net-net, stick with the hot mocha. I know it’s still 90 degrees in certain parts of the country, but fall is right around the corner! For my fellow capsaicin enthusiasts, I’m dropping a Ghost Pepper Mocha suggestion in Starbucks’ inbox.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall 12 oz (Hot Chile Mocha with whipped cream) – 270 Calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 29 grams total sugars, 10 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: Varies
Size: Tall
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Chile Mocha)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Iced Chile Mocha)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Chile Mocha Frappuccino)
Pros: Fondly reminiscent of Lucas Mexican Candy Power. Hot Chile Mocha.
Cons: Too much whipped cream. Frappuccino and Iced Mocha are sugar bombs. Minimal heat.

REVIEW: Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich

Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich

Great Value’s Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich looks like it belongs under the heat lamp at a gas station convenience store. The KFC Double Down-inspired sandwich features smoke-flavored bacon and American cheese between two breaded crispy chicken breast patties.

After microwaving it, cheese oozed out from almost every angle and down onto the plate. The sandwich’s cheesiness is because there are actually three slices of American cheese stuck together to make it look like one. BONUS!

Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich 2

With every bite there’s a little bit of everything initially — some seasoning from the chicken patty’s breading, a bit of smokiness from the bacon, and a little tang from the cheese. But that gets shoved aside by a wave of saltiness.

My dogs, who like to lick my arms after a run, would say this sandwich is way too salty. One has over 2,000 milligrams of sodium. The KFC Double Down is a healthier option with 1,380 milligrams of sodium. Yes, I just typed the words “KFC Double Down is a healthier option” and you are not in a bizarro dimension.

Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich 3

With every bite, all I could think of was salt. Salt shakers. Salty sea water. A horse salt lick. The Morton’s Salt Girl. Veruca Salt. Salt from Salt-N-Pepa. I’ve had fast food burgers with more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, but they didn’t taste as salty as this sandwich. But, let’s be honest, it shouldn’t be surprising the combination of breaded chicken, three cheese slices, and bacon would create culinary salt lick.

Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich 4

But there’s more to complain about than its saltiness. The chicken patties along their edges were as dry as stale bread; it’s pricey for just two small sandwiches; and its microwave instructions are more complex than they should be. It involves taking apart the sandwich, heating just the chicken, reassembling the sandwich, heating the whole thing, and letting it stand for a minute to cool and to allow you say “YOLO” or push aside any doubts, regrets, or doctor’s warnings.

If there’s one major plus it’s the addition of the paper sleeve with each sandwich. I thought it was for crisping the chicken in the microwave, but it’s just a plain paper one to help hold the sandwich as I ate it, since the “bread” is freshly microwaved chicken patties.

But a courteous attachment isn’t enough for me to recommend the Great Value Late Night Cravings Double Decker Chicken & Bacon Sandwich.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 sandwich – 610 calories, 380 calories from fat, 42 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 11 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 13 grams of monounsaturated fat, 115 milligrams of cholesterol, 2090 milligrams of sodium, 280 milligrams of potassium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 34 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $6.44
Size: 2 sandwiches
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Paper sleeve included to prevent burnt fingers. A flash of decent flavor with every bite.
Cons: Salty. Pricey. Salty. Dry chicken patties. Salty. Its microwave instructions. Salty. Too much cheese. Salty.

REVIEW: Totino’s Supreme Stuffed Nachos (2016)

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme

If ramen noodles are the Usain Bolt of cheap eats for students, drunkards and poor folks the world over, then Totino’s is surely…whoever happens to be the second fastest guy in the world.

Okay, now some of what I’m going to say will sound made up, but unless Wikipedia is riddled with errors (which has never happened), this is the God’s honest: Totino’s was founded in Minneapolis in 1951 (!) by Rose and Jim Totino (!!) as a take-out pizza joint (!!!). They eventually expanded to a full-service restaurant (!!!!) that finally shuttered its doors in 2011 (!@#$%!!).

I know, right?

Anyway, in 1993, Pillsbury-owned Jeno’s pizza rolls (first created by Jeno Paulucci in 1968 as “an egg roll filled with pizza ingredients”), were rebranded as Totino’s, and the rest is history.

If you are alive, and human, you have had a Totino’s Party Pizza (the idea of throwing a party involving Totino’s never ceases to make me laugh). You have also had Totino’s Pizza Rolls.

The “pizza” is by no means a real pizza; now, that’s not to say it’s bad. It is a small, crispy disk of bread-like material covered with an amalgamation of hydrogenated oil-based cheese substitutes, flavorless ketchup, and salt-bits masquerading as various types of meat toppings. It regularly retails for $1.39 in my area, and can often be found as a 10/$10 deal.

It has its place as a late-night regret.

It is also a wildly successful brand, producing 240 MILLION discs per year.

So it is no wonder that they would also try to corner the market on another beloved American institution, the frozen, pocket-based delicacy. Not that this is their first attempt. The ORIGINAL Stuffed Nacho from Totino’s was introduced in 1996 and then discontinued, leaving a trail of heartbroken and hungry snack aficionados in the wake.

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 2

The Totino’s Stuffed Nacho is a triangle pizza roll filled with nacho-inspired ingredients. For the sake of this review, I went with the “supreme” variation. The box promised me “taco seasoned chicken and beef pizza topping, red bell peppers, jalapeños and cheddar cheese rolls in a crispy crust.”

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 4

The first thing you should know is that you can’t taste ANY of it. There was no heat from the jalapeño, no sweet tang from a red bell pepper, no possible way a chicken ever saw the killing room floor. There may have been cheese, but only in the way that we know God loves us.

The shell was different from a standard pizza roll in that it was corn-tasting. Not in an ACTUAL corn tortilla respect — and not even in a corn chip way — but in the way that Nestle manages to conjure a vague corn-ambiance from its Beef Taco Hot Pockets effort.

The beef too was not unlike the aforementioned BTHP. It was a chewy approximation of meat, but if you received something like it anywhere other than here (Taco Bell included), you’d curse out the proprietor and demand a refund. It has that signature taco taste, though, achieved through “spice” (a real ingredient on the label), as well as onion and garlic powders.

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 3

Anyway, does this taste like an elf in the Totino’s factory magically impregnated a pizza roll with a plate of delicious nachos? Not a chance.

Would I buy them again, however? Eh, maybe. They seriously weren’t awful — in the same way that pizza rolls and Totino’s pizza discs aren’t awful. But at $4.59 (!) for a 34 count box (NOBODY NEEDS THAT MANY OF THESE THINGS!!), it’s prohibitively expensive. You know, for the target demographic: students, vagabonds, and drunks.

(Nutrition Facts – 6 rolls – 220 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 420 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.59
Size: 17.4 oz box
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Vague taco qualities. You don’t have to think much about it. Nice face-stuffing quotient
Cons: Pretty one-note. Idea of “nacho pocket” isn’t a bad one, but execution on this offering lacks. Per Wikipedia, Consumer Reports rated Totino’s as “only fair for nutrition.” Because, duh.

REVIEW: Arby’s Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich

Conceptually, I love the idea of a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. I love chicken breast filet, I love the hell out of some ham, and Swiss —- while not the best cheese, necessarily — is still a fine cheese in most circumstances. But the strange thing is, I’m not entirely certain I’ve ever had a chicken cordon bleu sandwich that I actually loved. I guess you could even say that I’ve never had one that chicken cordon bleu my mind. (Ugh. Trust me. I’m as disappointed in myself as you are.)

Anyway, I’d had the original Arby’s iteration more than once in the past, mostly because it’s not something you see often on fast food menus, and I’m a sucker for uncommon menu items. (This is the same reason I can’t wait for Taco Bell’s Grilled Stuft Lobster Burrito, which isn’t a thing, but should be.) Arby’s original CCB was mostly a harmless proposition, but decidedly unspectacular each time. I guess I kept hoping it would get better, which I think is the definition of insanity or something.

Really, it was the chicken’s fault. Crunchy and dull, the quality paled in comparison to the restaurant’s other meats. Large chunks of “breading” hard enough to crack a molar; stringy ropes of flavorless chicken low on flavor but rich in disappointment.

That’s why I was excited to hear that BUTTERMILK entered the equation. Because really, aren’t all the best chickens buttermilked at some point?

Well, it still didn’t work.

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich 2

It’s not that it was bad, really, it was just that it wasn’t good. The filet itself was bigger, juicier, and meatier than its heavily breaded predecessor, but there was a distinct lack of flavor. It was void of almost any discernible seasoning or spice. It simply existed as a big, hot chunk of meat, content to take up space between the “star top bun” which is, you know, a bun with a star shape cut into the top.

Not that the bun was bad. It also just…existed. It tasted fresh, though, and it was warm, so that was good. (I’ve often found buns to be a problem at my nearest Arby’s.)

The closest thing to a true star on this sandwich was actually what they refer to as “thinly sliced pit-smoked ham.” It was plentiful and, when removed from the totality of the sandwich, a decent balance of smoky and sweet.

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich 3

There was a nice slice of Swiss cheese — real Swiss cheese, not the White American that fast food barons typically try to sell you — but it sorta got lost in the mix. The mayonnaise was appropriately applied and provided a bit of needed tang, trying in vain to make up for the tasteless chicken breast.

Sadly, it just wasn’t enough.

Overall, it doesn’t seem that buttermilk is bringing enough to the party on Arby’s new chicken sandwiches. And that’s a shame. I was really hoping I’d found the chicken cordon bleu of my dreams, but it’s pretty clear that my quest must continue. (Or I can, you know, just go to Chick-fil-A and get a consistently tasty chicken sandwich without the bells and whistles.)

(Nutrition Facts – 690 calories, 310 calories from fat, 35 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 2000 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 41 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.69 (sandwich only)
Size: N/A
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Ham was inoffensive. It was served super-hot, but I mean, there’s no guarantee that yours will be.
Cons: Bland, flavorless buttermilk chicken. Uninspired. The whole thing felt a little like they were going through the motions. Oh, one of the least healthy options on the Arby’s menu in terms of calories from fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Cheesy Core Burritos (Crunchy and Spicy)

Taco Bell Cheese Core Burritos

Without the Earth’s core, the Earth would die. Without an ooey gooey cheesy core, Taco Bell’s Cheesy Core Burrito would be lame.

Is it lame?

Well, all I can tell you is that it’s not as lame as making you read several paragraphs to find out if it’s lame.

The Cheesy Core Burrito is available in two varieties — Crunchy and Spicy.

The Crunchy one is a burrito with seasoned beef, premium Latin rice, red sauce, and reduced-fat sour cream with a cheesy core that features a melted 3-cheese blend, nacho cheese sauce, and red tortilla strips. The Spicy version has almost the same ingredients as the Crunchy one, but instead of red tortilla strips, there are jalapeños. I decided to try both.

The burritos are two inches wide and 6.5 inches long. To be honest, it’s neat how it’s put together. It’s basically a tiny cheese burrito in the middle of another burrito. When I took it apart, it was like finding a fish in the stomach of another fish or seeing a Luke Wilson cameo in an Owen Wilson movie. It’s also…BURRITOCEPTION! Sorry. I’m sure someone would’ve written that in the comments if I didn’t mention it first.

Taco Bell Spicy Cheesy Core Burritos
Taco Bell Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito

Mine were made by two different workers. The spicy one was made with care and the crunchy one was made with I don’t care. My Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito had a centered distinguishable core, while the crunchy one looked like it was rejecting its core. I thought cutting them in half would cause cheese to ooze out from the center, turning the cross-section burrito photos I took into explicit food porn that may need some parts pixelated.

Taco Bell Crunchy Cheesy Core Burritos
Taco Bell Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito

Unfortunately, the cheese didn’t bleed out, but there’s a reason for that. There’s not a lot of cheese and there’s a lot more red tortilla strips/jalapenos than you’d expect. With both my burritos, they looked and tasted as if they had a normal amount of cheese. The cores weren’t even close to being as cheesy as the ads show them.

Look, I understand the rules of fast food — always know where the restrooms are whenever you eat it and it never looks the way it does on the poster. But when I bite into these burritos I want it to feel like I’m a cheese vampire and I’ve just punctured the jugular vein of cheese.

Texture-wise the tortilla strips were mostly soggy by the time I got to bite into them. So if you want to experience a crunch, might I suggest chomping on it the second you get them or get the Spicy one because the jalapeños have a nice crunch.

The best way I can describe the flavor of these burritos is to say they taste like Taco Bell. Because if you eat either one, I’m sure you’ll think to yourself, “I’ve had this before.” With both burritos the dominate flavors are the seasoned beef, sour cream, and the nacho cheese sauce. I can probably count on both hands the number of times I’ve tasted this combination from Taco Bell. The number of times I’ve experienced those flavors with jalapeños probably takes up one hand. It’s just the same flavors but in a different, albeit cool, package.

If I had to suggest a variety to try, I’d recommend going with the Spicy one because you’ll get spicy and crunchy in one. But overall, these burritos are lame because they lack a really cheesy core.

(Nutrition Facts – Crunchy – 630 calories, 26 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1530 milligrams of sodium, 76 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of protein. Spicy – 570 calories, 23 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1760 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.39*
Size: N/A
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Crunchy)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Spicy)
Pros: Jalapeños have a little heat and are crunchier than the red tortilla strips. It’s cute how it’s a tiny burrito in another burrito. Earth’s core.
Cons: Tastes like Taco Bell. Cheesy core not very cheesy. Crunchy one needs to be eaten quickly to experience crunch. Making you read a bunch of paragraphs to find out if it’s lame.

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

REVIEW: DiGiorno Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melts

DiGiorno Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melt

I don’t ask much from frozen foods I have to prepare in a microwave. Here’s the short list: 

  1. Be edible.
  2. Don’t have a microwave cooking time that’s longer than an Adult Swim show.
  3. Don’t make a mess while in the microwave oven.

The DiGiorno Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melt barely passed #1, passed #2 with flying colors, and completely failed #3.

The first step of the microwave directions says, “Remove product from plastic wrap. Place product onto crisping tray and directly on the microwave surface.” As you can read, there’s no suggestion for a microwave-safe plate or a paper towel. Just put the flat crisping tray on the microwave surface and just spin it right round, baby, round round like a record, baby, right round round.

This is what happened after I followed the instructions on the box:

DiGiorno Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melt 2

Stupid box!

As you can see, the three types of mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce melted over the edges of the garlic and onion focaccia bread onto the crisping tray and then onto the microwave surface. Watching this happen was like watching lava flow into the ocean, except watching lava flow into the ocean is awe-inspiring and watching a fancy-sounding Italian bread pizza make a mess that I have to clean up is aggravating.

I scraped together whatever mess was salvageable on the crisping tray and plopped it back on the bread, but it didn’t help it from tasting too bread-y. I thought lack of toppings skewed its intended flavor, so I decided to heat up the second one in the box using the toasted oven directions. However, I did put it on a small sheet of aluminum foil so that I wouldn’t have to clean my toaster oven too.

DiGiorno Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melt 3

Even though the toppings stayed on the second one, the bread continued to be the dominant flavor. So if you’re thinking this will taste like a DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, you need to lower your expectations. There were many pepperoni bits, but they didn’t pop with flavor.

As for the “three types of mozzarella cheese,” they sound exciting, don’t they? Maybe there’s a garlic-infused mozzarella? Or an aged mozzarella? But alas, according to the ingredients list, the three mozzarella cheeses are mozzarella cheese, low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese, and reduced fat mozzarella cheese. 

Ooooh, low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese! The hyphens make it fancy!

Whether microwaved on the crisping sleeve or prepared in a toaster oven, the focaccia bread wasn’t what I would call “crispy.” But it also wasn’t soggy or flat, so I guess it could’ve been worse. Also, I thought the garlic and onion in the bread would enhance its flavor, but I didn’t taste the usually pungent ingredients.

DiGiorno is promoting the Pepperoni Speciale Artisan Style Melt as a snack, but it’s not a satisfying one. It’s just a messy one.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 melt – 320 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 440 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 8.1 oz/2 pieces
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Edible. Doesn’t have a microwave cooking time longer than an Adult Swim show.
Cons: Following instructions led to a messy microwave. Bread is the dominate flavor. Three mozzarella cheese aren’t anything special. Onion and garlic in bread not noticeable. Stupid box!