REVIEW: Hershey’s S’mores Pudding

Hershey's S'mores Pudding

Every time I’ve had s’mores, whether it’s at a barbecue using the hot coals to toast marshmallows or at a Boy Scout camp I really didn’t want to be at and faked dehydration to try to get a one way ticket home, I used Hershey’s chocolate. And I’m sure for many of you that chocolate from Pennsylvania is also what you use for s’mores.

Hershey’s is taking advantage of its chocolate being the default candy choice for s’mores by using it to sell pudding that’s not made by Hershey’s, but Kraft.

Hershey’s S’mores Pudding is a layered dessert. The top layer, I assume by its color, is supposed to be marshmallow flavored. Also, the top layer, I assume because there aren’t any actual graham cracker bits in the pudding, is also graham flavored.

It has an airy texture that I believe Yoplait and Jif would call “whipped” and Jello would call “mousse.” Well, I’d like to call it not marshmallow-y or graham cracker-y.

The bottom layer is chocolate pudding made with real Hershey’s cocoa. Sure, I’ll believe what the packaging says, even though my tongue thinks it tastes similar to other chocolate pudding served in plastic cups with foil lids.

Hershey's S'mores Pudding 2

When both layers are consumed together, it does remind me of s’mores eaten around the campfire in the middle of a forest, if those s’mores were made with just chocolate because someone forgot to bring marshmallows and graham crackers and it’s a pain to get them because we’re in the middle of a frickin’ forest, Steve.

The top whipped layer does change the flavor of the chocolate pudding, but not really in a good way. Oddly, the top layer has a bit of a cocoa flavor, which you’d think would enhance the chocolate pudding. But instead of enhancing, it lessens its flavor. I know that doesn’t make sense, but going camping with chocolate and no marshmallows and graham crackers also makes no sense, Steve.

Hershey’s S’mores Pudding is perfectly fine as a chocolate pudding and the two different textures are nice, but don’t expect memories of summer campfires to appear in your head as you scoop it into your mouth because I don’t think s’mores when I eat it. The only way you can experience s’mores with this pudding is if you rub some of it on your hands, making it appear to be as messy as eating an actual s’more.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 snack – 110 calories, 25 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 16 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 4% calcium, and 2% iron.)

Item: Hershey’s S’mores Pudding
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 4 pack
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Fine as a chocolate pudding. Two different textures are nice. Barbecues.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like s’mores. Top whipped layer doesn’t enhance bottom chocolate pudding. Can’t tell Hershey’s cocoa is being used. Forgetting the marshmallows and graham crackers when going camping, Steve.

REVIEW: Harvey’s Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)

I feel like I should be the target audience for the Nacho Cheese Sticks at Harvey’s.

If you’re going to deep fry something that’s not normally fried, I’m gonna want to eat that. No; I’m going to demand to eat that. I’m going to respectfully request that you take it straight from the fryer and put it directly in my mouth. Will I suffer severe burns? Probably. But I’ll drive to the hospital with a smile on my (horribly burned) face.

There’s even a place in my heart for nacho cheese –- you know, that gloppy, unnaturally smooth, vaguely jalapeno-tinged cheesefood that’s the approximate colour of an orange safety vest? I love that stuff. It tastes like nothing even resembling real cheese, but I love it all the same. I could eat it by the barrel.  
So as a connoisseur of unusual fried foods and neon orange nacho cheese sauce, I was all over these. I went to Harvey’s to buy them like a cartoon character floating towards a pie.

An order comes with five pieces, each about the size of a small mozzarella stick, along with a small container of zesty sauce for dipping.

I’m sure my high expectations didn’t help, but man… what the heck, Harvey’s? Seriously: now I know how Obi-Wan felt in Revenge of the Sith. How could something so awesome in theory be so middling in execution?

The main ingredient here — the cheese — is just not very good. It’s like someone decided to mix nacho cheese sauce with bottom-of-the-barrel supermarket cheddar. It tastes muddled, without the comforting, smooth blandness of real-deal nacho cheese, or the satisfying sharpness of real cheddar. It’s somewhere in between, in some kind of horrifying flavour limbo where deliciousness goes to die. No jalapeno flavour, either, which is unfortunate.

The texture, too, is somewhere between real and fake; more plasticky than smooth. It’s essentially the worst of both worlds: too fake to be real cheddar, and too real to be nacho cheese.

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada) 2

The breading is okay. It’s crispy and fried, so it fits the bill on that level, but the taste leaves something to be desired. Despite its nacho appearances, it mostly has the same generic flavour that you’ll find on any number of frozen breaded chicken strips or onion rings. The tortilla flavour doesn’t stand out nearly as much as it should.

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada) 3

They’re not even completely filled with cheese. A couple were stuffed from end to end, but the rest were mostly hollow, with a gooey coating of cheese lining the inside. This might have been a bigger issue, but since the cheese wasn’t even that great to start with, I didn’t really mind.

The dipping sauce could have helped to round out the middling flavour of these sticks, but it’s too zesty for its own good; it clashes rather than compliments. It tastes completely out of place.

I really, really wanted to like these. Instead, I got Fredo’d. Nothing about them was nearly as delicious as it should have been.

You broke my heart, Harvey’s. You broke my heart.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on the Harvey’s website.)

Item: Harvey’s Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 (CAN)
Size: 5 pieces
Purchased at: Harvey’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Crispy and fried. Melty cheese.
Cons: Taste and texture of the cheese leaves a lot to be desired. Useless dipping sauce. Betrayal. Anakin Skywalker. Fredo Corleone.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

I have a confession, dear readers.

I am a weenie.

That’s right: I’m the guy who needs a tissue after a single Flaming Hot Cheeto. I’m the guy who thinks playing Doritos Roulette is cruel and unusual punishment. And Thai food? More like “I want to die food.”

And I’ve been mocked for it my whole life.

That’s why taking on the challenge of Taco Bell’s new Dare Devil Loaded Grillers, which come in three escalating levels of spiciness, was a personal quest for me. If I can handle these, maybe I can regain some self-respect. No longer will I quiver before a bottle of Sriracha.

So without further ado, allow me to channel my inner Dante and dive into these three tortilla-wrapped circles of Hell.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 2

First up was Mild Chipotle. The wrapper seemed to mock me with its condescending tone and mellow yellow colors. The insides were kinda squished together, but between the many, thick layers of tortilla were scant amounts of beef, plenty of gooey cheese, strangely damp wads of red corn chips, and the tempting beige sauce.

Flavor-wise, the toasty, grilled flour of the tortilla and the slight edge of the cheese dominated all else, with the sauce backing it up with a savory creaminess that had a palpably high fattiness. Little meatiness could be found, and the chips got too soggy to lend any sort of fun crunch. Regardless, as a fan of quesadillas, this tasted a lot like a pleasantly zesty one.

As for the spice, after finishing a bite I noticed a relaxed buzz in the back of my throat, but nothing even my greenhorn tongue couldn’t handle.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 3

Kicking it up a notch (shame on Taco Bell for not working in the phrase “kick it up a nacho” somehow), I bit into the Hot Habanero griller. Aesthetically, it looked nearly identical to its plain-Jane little brother, except with a much thinner and angrier looking orange layer of creamy sauce.

Compared to Chipotle, the taste here was like a “hot beef injection.” Wait, wait. That’s not what I mean. Don’t Google that, please. But anyway, the noticeable tang of the pepper made the smoky, seasoned beef flavor much more prominent here, with undertones of garlic and black pepper. Our “chipper” friends manage to pop in with a brief, hot corniness, too.

The heat was a slow buildup, so much so that I thought I was safe until my tongue and throat started to tingle and whimper like a dog who played with a porcupine (thank my German Shorthair, who took a faceful of quills to bring us that analogy). Fortunately, the steady burn wasn’t nearly intense enough that a long swig of milk couldn’t wash it out.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 4

But then it was time for Fiery Ghost Pepper. It was to be my personal final boss: my Bowser, my Ganondorf, and my last mine in a tense game of Minesweeper. Unlike its creamy siblings, this one just oozed a sinister, bubbly red liquid (okay, maybe I imagined the bubbles).

In terms of flavor, I was barely able to sense a salty combo of meat and corn chips before the acrid acidity of the sauce took over, with the harsh, concentrated pepper flavor overwhelming and seeping into all else. Even the formerly friendly cheese betrayed me and became pasteurized magma.

Et tu, nacho?

To seasoned veterans of seasoned spice, the heat may not quite be “1,000,00 Scovilles,” but it was enough to make me say “Sco-ly s***!” My tongue went numb to flavor, my throat resonated with capsaicin, and trying to wash it down with milk was as futile as Smokey the Bear crying tears of disappointment onto a forest fire.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 5

For a total price of $3, the Dare Devil Grillers were a fun novelty, but outside of Chipotle, I can’t imagine buying any for an actual meal (though they are large enough for one), since the burn takes way from the familiar flavor, which you could easily get from many of Taco Bell’s other items.

Since I can see my word count here is already starting to rival Dante’s Divine Comedy, too, and since I’m still nursing a crispy tongue, I think a brief haiku summarizing each Griller will suffice:

Chipotle, my friend:
Cheesy, zesty mayo-filled
Beef quesadilla

Habanero, oh!
Peppered meat, slow-building heat
(That sounded dirty)

Ghost pepper: need Tums
Like Pompeii, heat buries taste
Ow ow ow, owww, ow!

(Nutrition Facts – Chipotle – 420 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 940 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Habanero – 380 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Ghost Pepper – 400 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 970 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers
Purchased Price: $1 each
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Chipotle)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Habanero)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Ghost Pepper)
Pros: Flavorful beef with cheese and toasty flour tortilla. Unbeatable value. The sinful goodness of “palpably high fat content.” Conquering your personal Ganondorf.
Cons: Pain and heat mask flavor as you move up in heat. Only difference between Grillers is flavor emphasis. Soggy chips. The crushing betrayal of “pasteurized magma.”

REVIEW: Lay’s Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips

Lay's Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips

In what seems to be an annual tradition, Lay’s brings us four new flavors in the 2015 edition of “Do Us a Flavor” contest. The concept is, admittedly, pretty awesome. I’m a sucker for new flavored potato chips and four ordinary everyday people like you and me get a chance to see their own flavor ideas become a reality. It’s a win-win-win for the contestant, the consumers, and Lay’s.

The winner gets to live forever in potato chip dignity (or infamy) with a million in his or her pocket. Our taste buds get to enjoy new flavors. And Lay’s gets a public relations boost.

Besides, there are worse yearly traditions like the annual physical checkup or Christmas with the in-laws (yes I’ll take more egg-nog!). Unlike those events, I really look forward to this promotion. And it appears it’s working. The fervor at several Targets was evident because there were rarely any available when the new flavors first reached its stores. I had to settle for a bag of seven-layer dip Combos, which are pretty damn swank in its own right.

On a mundane Wednesday, I walked into the Target near my work looking for some supermarket sushi (don’t judge, I know most of you out there buy it too). I decided to give the chip aisle a look-see and voila!!! I found the Lay’s Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries. And like an article, there’s a byline… “Submitted by Angie Fu.”

Angie Fu seems like a nice person, she is photogenic and looks like those clip art photos one uses in those damned team-building slideshow presentations. A quick look on the internet tells me Angie Fu is a senior manager of production and product development at a cosmetic company. She has a penchant, like my wife and I, for truffle fries with parmesan sprinkled on top. Can Lay’s deliver? Will the translation be applauded like the Ant-Man adaptation or derided like the recent Fantastic Four movie?

I opened the bag and was a bit unsure because it smelled more of sour cream and onion chips than the familiar earthy and mellow musk of truffles. Subsequent inhales left me even more confused because the garlic and onion notes began to overwhelm my nostrils.

The Wavy chips are my favorite and I feel Lay’s smartly chose this shape because the ridges not only have a pleasant texture, but they are also like “dusty” ledges that herd that flavor powder to a single intense point. It really underscores whatever flavor the chip is carrying.

Lay's Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips 2

However, these chips are a double-edged sword. The chips, as always, were crispy and delivered that snap. But the flavor was like a roasted potato with a strong dairy finish, like a sour cream. If there was truffle, it was faint like a ghost. The cereal milk left over from Grape-Nuts has more character. The chip really tasted like a cheddary-sour cream and onion chip.

Don’t mistake my comments for this being a bad chip. If you’re looking for a cheddar/sour cream and onion chip, these hit the penthouse. Yet, I wanted what was promised and the taste of roasted potato, cheddar, and sour cream (loaded baked potato sans bacon?) was not what I had in mind. There’s visible flecks of parsley, which were the only evidence they existed. I was clearly disappointed and gave the bag to my wife, who also remarked on the strong creamy cheddar-like flavor the chips imparted.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I can’t help it. Truffle has a distinct and luscious profile. I was excited to see the flavor and I was ecstatic when the photo of those wonderful fries with truffle oil doused on it and parmesan scattered like delicious confetti. My experience with these chips was akin to chatting it up with someone at a bar with moody lighting and when you walk out, you realize it’s your sister. AGGGGHHH! My sister is a decent person but she’s not the person you want to…well, you know.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 330 milligrams of potassium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 7.75 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Wavy shape is the way to go for a profound flavor. The annual “Do Us a Flavor” promotion. Alexander Fu-Sing’s vintage Kung Fu films.
Cons: The profound flavor is more “sour cream and onion” than truffle and parmesan. The annual scream into your pillow Christmas festivities with your in-laws. Imagining Angie Fu’s warm smile turn to a frown because of these chips.

REVIEW: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade

McDonald’s McCafe? Strawberry Lemonade

Part of me feels guilty for buying McDonald’s new McCafé Strawberry Lemonade because I’m probably driving some little girl’s lemonade stand out of business and killing her budding entrepreneurial spirit.

But part of me doesn’t feel guilty because I’m probably teaching her valuable lessons of business innovation which will allow her to up her game and develop sound marketing and costing principles for future lemonade stand expansion. So you might say I have mixed feelings about my purchase. Just like I have mixed feelings about the taste of McDonald’s newest McCafé beverage.

The fast food chain says that their new take on lemonade is “hand shaken for a perfect balance of sweet and tart,” but neither of those points are actually correct. The woman making my lemonade didn’t shake it so much as she pushed a few buttons on a big machine with strawberry lemonade in it, which is a real bummer because everyone knows lemonade is a lot like martinis -— better shaken, not stirred.

Also, the strawberry lemonade is really only the “perfect balance” of sweet and tart if your definition of balance means tasting more tart than sweet, which for a lot of people isn’t the preferred ratio for fruit-flavored foods and drinks (thus, why we have Sweetarts and not Tartsweets.)

Still, the strawberry lemonade is definitely refreshing and unexpectedly sophisticated in its flavor. The tartness, while outweighing the sweetness, isn’t mind blowing like a Warhead, and actually tastes reminiscent of eating a Lemonhead and a Swedish Fish at the same time.

There’s definitely a nuanced strawberry flavor that rounds out the lemon’s acidity, while the three slices of strawberry I received in my lemonade made for a favorable presentation that I really doubt most little boys and girls setting up lemonade stands this time of year can match.

McDonald’s McCafe? Strawberry Lemonade 3

Still, I can’t get past the tartness, nor can I get past the big machine of lemonade that serves up one of the most quintessentially homemade beverages with what I can only describe as “questionable” freshness. The strawberries, while aesthetically very nice to stir around with your straw, are actually pretty insipid and obviously frozen, with a thawed-out sliminess that screams for added sugar. More than anything else, I thought that added sugar would have helped bring out the inherent fruitiness of the strawberries, and justified the $1.79 I paid for a small.

There’s been a lot of McDonald’s Secret Menu talk as of late and I’d like to add a little tip to the conversation. If you’re lucky to live in an area where McDonald’s soda dispensers come equipped with both Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Strawberry Fanta, you can get a sweeter, more strawberry-y lemonade drink for less money.

McDonald’s McCafe? Strawberry Lemonade 2

I like what McDonald’s is trying to get at with their McCafé Strawberry Lemonade, even if the execution is off and the tartness overpowering. Given my guilt over contributing to the decline of brother and sister lemonade stands, I can only hope that our country’s next generation of venture capitalists responds by correcting this imbalance and reclaiming the lemonade market through fresher strawberries and more sugar.

(Nutrition Facts – Small – 120 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: Small (12 oz.)
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: More sophisticated flavor than usual takes on lemonade. Nuanced strawberry taste. Comes with real strawberry and lemon slices. Chilled and refreshing on a hot day.
Cons: Too tart for general lemonade drinking public. Strawberry flavor isn’t as concentrated as it should be. Pricey. Questionable freshness, including lack of discernible pulp. Supporting corporate giant over youthful small businesses.