REVIEW: Reese’s Stuffed with Crunchy Cookie Cups

Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups

I want a chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

But, sadly, while the insides of a Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Cup look like a chocolate chip cookie, it’s the same peanut butter studded with bits of chocolate cookies (think Oreo).

Announced back in March as part of Reese’s CUPfusion rebrand to CUPspiracy, this cookie iteration follows the Reese’s Pieces Stuffed Peanut Butter Cups. Like the Pieces version, these look exactly like the regular cups on the outside. The ones I had looked like they had a rough going with the summer heat and the sun won, so they weren’t the typical smooth and round cups.?
Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups 2
?The Reese’s food scientists must have heard my fellow TIB food reviewer’s gripes about the Pieces’ lack of texture in its stuffed peanut butter cups, because they turned it all the way up this time. But, that’s all it offers.

Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups 3

I was disappointed to find that it mostly tasted like a regular cup. I found the lingering chocolate peanut butter aftertaste to be a tad bit saltier than usual, which is the cookie bits doing. As a habitual ice chewer, I enjoy crunchy textures but I expected so much more than JUST texture and an ever so slight taste difference.

Like a looping slow-motion replay on a contentious referee call, I ate cup after cup for a total of four cups just to be sure I wasn’t missing something. I had little bites and big bites with swishes of water in between to cleanse my palate. Unfortunately, I came to the same conclusion…four times. Cue the sad trombone because we’ve all been played by the Reese’s marketing team.

While the chocolate cookie bits don’t provide much flavor, if you’re a Reese’s diehard like I am, you’ll still get to enjoy the classic peanut butter and chocolate combination. And that’s better than nothing.

But for now, I shall continue to wait for my something — a chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cups – 200 calories, 90 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 21 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.59
Size: 1.4 oz/2 cups
Purchased at: 76 Gas Station
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Texture! It still tastes like a good ol’ Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Cons: The only difference is the texture. I want a whole chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

REVIEW: Jack in the Box Smoky Jack

Jack in the Box Smoky Jack

When I look at the Jack in the Box Smoky Jack, all I think to myself is, “Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with a random drug test today because that’s a urine-tainting amount of poppyseeds.” There are so many that this bun would look at an everything bagel and yell, “Have some decency and cover yourself up!”

Besides the artisan poppyseed bun, the burger also includes a beef patty, lettuce, tomato, hickory smoked bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, and a condiment called hickory sauce. The Smoky Jack is also available with crispy chicken.

While the bun might blow away any chance of me passing a drug test, the burger as a whole doesn’t blow me away taste-wise.

The smoky cheddar is a welcomed change from the regular cheeses Jack uses. Usually, it seems as if the cheese is there to prevent other toppings from falling out, but not provide much flavor. But the smoky mild cheddar does add a bit of smokiness AND prevents toppings from falling out. Its flavor lingers in the mouth well after the burger is consumed.

Jack in the Box Smoky Jack 2

The bacon, cemented to the cheddar, is a bit chewy, but adds even more smokiness. As for the beef patty, it’s a little dry, but that’s par for the course and something I’m used to.

The tomato seems fresh and the lettuce is as green as lettuce could be, which I bring up because that’s rare in the fast food world. As for the hickory sauce, I’m not sure my burger got it because the condiment tastes more like peppercorn mayonnaise. But whatever it is, its light flavor allows the smokiness of the other two toppings to come through. The bun has a sweetness to it, but the poppyseeds don’t add any flavor or texture.

Jack in the Box Smoky Jack 3

Thanks to the bacon and cheese, the Smoky Jack earns its name. But its smokiness make me yearn for another. As a whole, it’s a decent burger, but it’s also boring when you compare it with something like the chain’s Buttery Jacks or anything from the late night Munchies menu. Think of it as a slight upgrade from a Jumbo Jack.

I have to admit, being the headliner of a special inexpensive $4.99 combo does make it taste a little bit better. But it’s not something that would make me beckon the Crave Van and its property damage wake so that I can eat it.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website.)

Purchased Price: $5.99* (combo)
Size: N/A
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Decent burger. Cheese’s smokiness is noticeable. Green lettuce. Being part of a $4.99 combo makes it taste a little bit better.
Cons: Blanket of poppyseeds on bun might cause you to fail a drug test. Kind of boring when comparing it to other Jack in the Box offerings. Dry beef patty. Chewy bacon. I don’t crave it.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. In most areas the Smoky Jack combo is being advertised for $4.99.

REVIEW: Starbucks Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Summertime arrives each year following much anticipation of great weather, long days, and lots of opportunities for seasonal activities. By the time most of us get to August, the luster is gone. Skin in a mosaic pattern of sunburn and bug bites remain as a reminder of the overcrowded beaches, holiday weekend traffic jams, uncomfortable humidity, and unfinished must-reads that we experienced over the last six weeks.

Starbucks aims to rekindle some of that summer charm by introducing their new line of Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions. Teavana, previously a member of the top five free mall samples, was an expert at pairing blends and other enhancers (fruit among them) to create samples that were steeped (pun intended) in flavor. Their iced tea offerings (often paired with lemonade) were always the most strongly flavored and had me looking forward to their presentation of how “Good Feels Good,” represented in each drink by two infusions (tea and a fruit/plant/floral infusion) shaken together.

Teavana Peach Citrus Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The first variety, Peach Citrus White Tea, was inspired by Teavana Peach Tranquility Herbal Tea. The tea and a small amount of liquid cane sugar (just 70 calories and 19 grams of sugar in a 30 ounce Trenta), enhanced with an infusion of apples, licorice root, rose hips, hibiscus, orange peels, lemon verbena, chamomile pollen, lavender flowers, AND nondescript “natural flavors.”

It was generally light on peach flavor. This clearly wasn’t a Snapple or Nestea offering that beat you over the head with peach flavor. Peach does not show up on that lengthy infusion list in any form. But as I consumed more, the flavor evoked the scent of peach blossoms.

This drink captured the blending benefits I was familiar with from Teavana, and that’s a big win in my book. Iced tea is not complicated to make, and you don’t have to have exotic additions like rose hips or flower pollen to enjoy it. This is clearly a premium experience you’re being offered, and comparing other soft drinks puts this in a class by itself. Reviewer-speak aside, I nearly drank it too quickly to do the review justice!

White tea’s ability to be a featured and flexible background player (the Katherine Hahn of herbal beverages) was key, and I was concerned black tea might overwhelm the floral intonations and green tea might dampen their impact with a bitter counterpart.

Teavana Pineapple Black Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

My first fear was confirmed by the Pineapple Black Tea variety, inspired by Pineapple Kona Pop herbal tea, frequently used in Teavana’s iced tea samples. The strong tea choice did, in fact, overwhelm any subtler influences, and without the appropriate level of sweetness emanated a slight smoky nature in the aftertaste.

The pineapple flavor is a positive, a rare fresh pineapple taste infrequently found in beverages, particularly without coconut. This was the real deal. At least I think, despite a more tidy infusion list devoid of actual pineapple, save for the ubiquitous “Natural Flavors” catch-all.

Teavana Strawberry Green Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The third variety was the Strawberry Green Tea, oddly inspired by the Strawberry Paraiso White Tea. How would the change to a more pungent tea change the overall complexion of the drink?

I found the strawberry green interesting, as it feels like it’s working backwards. This beverage’s initial impact is very plant-based, surely due in part to the earthy herbal quality of green tea. The strawberry hits after you swallow, and, like the pineapple, tastes pretty close to “real” strawberry flavor (once again no strawberry indicated, although spearmint and lemongrass each made an appearance). If you consume the drink faster, the delay of the fruit impact lessons, but I appreciated having two taste profiles in one beverage. This option is meant to be savored slowly, which after all, is what iced tea’s heritage is all about.

Teavana Pina Colada Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

BONUS SEGMENT! Reviewing the Starbucks website, I discovered a less-promoted option: the Pina Colada Infusion. Through the generosity of the Main Street Newark partners, I had the chance to try this version on the house. The only change was a simple addition of coconut milk to the Pineapple Black Tea Infusion, or so it appeared. This time the ingredients list revealed a potentially significant adjustment, the reversal of the black tea and the plant/fruit, indicating less of the former and more of the latter in this incarnation.

The drink now consisted of creamy, slightly sweet, and slightly floral coconut milk; a greater concentration of plant/fruit infusion; and a reduced amount of black tea. The results were a marked improvement, albeit a beverage unlike iced tea you’ve ever had. Instead, a mildly sweet, fresh-tasting, not-cliche pina colada beverage is created, one that largely hides the black tea component and could be a counterpart to the Violet Drink. It’s unique, and perhaps not as impressive as the Peach Citrus White Tea, but it’s the option I find myself hankering for.

On my summer bucket list, I’ve got a few of the usual things left to do — catch a superhero flick, ride a roller coaster, read through the last seven reasons why. Thanks to Starbucks, I can leave planting in the garden far off the list. I’ve got all the flowers and pollen I need from this delightful line of tea infusions.

(Nutrition Facts – Trenta – Peach Citrus White – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 40-45 milligrams of caffeine. Pineapple Black and Strawberry Green – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 50-55 milligrams of caffeine. Pina Colada – 160 calories, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of sugar, and 50 milligrams of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $4.25 each except Pina Colada ($4.75)
Size: Trenta
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Peach Citrus White Tea)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Pineapple Black Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Strawberry Green Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Pina Colada Tea)
Pros: A gourmet effort at iced tea. Light balance between tea, fruit, and flower in the Peach Citrus White. Pineapple and strawberry flavors. The re-balancing act with the Pina Colada infusions ratios. The other members of the top five samples: (Auntie Anne’s, whatever places give out hibachi chicken or smoothies, and Charley’s Philly Steaks)
Cons: Overwhelming smokey black tea aftertaste. Starbucks adding another competitor’s outlets to the RIP pile (Seattle’s Best, Evaluation Fresh, La Boulange). When you’re a kid and move to a new house with a pool that your parents immediately replace with a vegetable garden.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Queso Burger

Wendy s Spicy Queso Burger

Historically, fast food “spicy burgers” have been pretty underwhelming.

Try as they may, neither Burger King’s Angry Whopper nor Carl’s Jr.’s El Diablo Thickburger lived up to the hype, and let’s not even get into the deluge of disappointing spicy-in-name-only chicken sandwiches that we’ve seen over the last couple of years.

Wendy’s themselves are no stranger to so-so spicy sammiches, such as the okay-but-that’s-about-it Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich from 2015. And while their latest and greatest tongue-torching burger makes a few noticeable improvements over their last foray into hot-ass hamburgers, the Bacon Queso Burger still feels more than a few degrees shy of being a truly top-notch, perspiration-inspiring product.

Wendy s Spicy Queso Burger 2

The quarter-pounder burger comes topped with a creamy poblano queso sauce, a heaping helping of fire-roasted salsa, three strips of Applewood smoked bacon, some chopped up red onions (an aside, but is it just me or do those things look more purple than red?), and a smattering of shredded cheddar cheese. And all of it is wedged between two roasted red jalapeno buns, which I didn’t even notice until I Googled the product after I already ate it, which, yeah, should tell you just how potent the jalapeno taste is here.

Wendy s Spicy Queso Burger 3

First, the good. Wendy’s has long had some of the best bacon in fast food, and this limited-time-only offering is no exception. Secondly, the beef is flavorful and doesn’t get lost amid the goulash of other ingredients. And thirdly, the poblano queso sauce has a unique taste and texture (thicker than aioli sauce but still not thick enough to be a traditional fondue) that doesn’t have an analogue at any other mainstream burger chain.

Unfortunately, there are more negatives than positives here. The salsa is way too pulpy and has virtually no spiciness, and it doesn’t blend that well with the queso at all (at first, I thought they just dumped a bunch of chili on the burger and called it good.)

Additionally, the onions feel (and taste) way out of place – that is, if you can even taste them at all after rubbing up against so many different sauces. And I was not a fan of the shredded cheese adornments – the icy cold taste and texture clashes with the rest of the burger AND every time you go for another bite it seems like half of the cheddar falls out.

Speaking of which, this might be the messiest non-Sloppy Joe sandwich I’ve ever eaten – forget tying on a bib; you’ll probably have to eat this one with a beach towel wrapped around your shoulders.

But the ultimate transgression of Wendy’s new burger, of course, is that it isn’t spicy enough. It’s unique and fairly flavorful and pretty filling, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to making good on that particular advertising point. And when you can’t deliver the primary thing your L-T-O marketing promises, can we really consider the offering as a whole anything less than a substantial disappointment?

(Nutrition Facts – 550 calories, 290 calories from fat, 29 grams of total fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,140 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 33 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: Single patty (also available in double and triple versions)
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The bacon is juicy, plump, and delicious. The hamburger patty is flavorful and filling. The queso tastes unlike anything else you’ve probably had at a big name burger joint.
Cons: The product isn’t spicy – at all. The salsa is too clumpy. The shredded cheese adds nothing to the experience (and in fact, detracts from it). Realizing beard + queso burger = shame the hard way.

REVIEW: Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks created THE fall drink with its Pumpkin Spice Latte.

And it might’ve created the drinks of summer with its new Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino Blended Crème (berries and prickly pear with side notes of hibiscus and passion fruit) and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Blended Crème (mango, caramelized pineapple, and a hint of lime).

Visually, both scream SUMMER with the pretty magenta and yellow color schemes. Even though magenta/yellow/white looks better than magenta/yellow/brown, I was a little bit wary of the crème base because the said coffee-less line is generally more like an icy milkshake.

The base was icy as expected but worked better than I imagined because it was fruit-forward. It’s supposed to be blended with milk, ice, and mango syrup, but I picked up a subtle coconut flavor instead. As for the purées, the mango overpowered the pineapple and the berry prickly pear mainly tasted like prickly pear. For those who are wondering, prickly pear has a very subtle sweetness – it tastes like a wax/rose apple or a less-pronounced watermelon. I was relieved that neither of the purées tasted artificial.

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 2

However, I must warn that form does not follow function for these drinks. The layered purée is only good for the ‘gram! I made the mistake of not mixing it enough. I swirled my straw a few times, but still sucked up a hidden pocket of purée. It was very unpleasant texturally as the viscosity reminded me of Children’s Motrin Syrup. I think real mango or strawberry bits would help. Be sure to take your ‘gram first and then stir vigorously!

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 4

As I continued sipping, the mango pineapple began to stand out as my frontrunner. I kept thinking it would taste fantastic with rum. It was like a virgin piña colada minus the artificial sweetness that usually accompanies it. The familiarity of mango, pineapple, and coconut also gave the flavor a leg up over the berry prickly pear which had an unpleasant note that reminded me of cough medicine.

Both drinks included lime, and like having it in a cocktail, it helped break up some of the sweetness and add brightness. However, the lime flavor floated in and out. I guess you could brand that as having a flavor adventure with each sip being slightly different than the last, but I prefer consistency.

Also, I’d say that I have a pretty discerning palate but I didn’t pick up on any of the caramelized pineapple in the mango pineapple or hibiscus in the berry prickly pear.

I was able drink both of these in the same sitting without feeling a sugar high and neither tasted artificially or disgustingly sweet. They still delivered on Starbucks quality as I could tell they used real fruit as opposed to sno-cone high fructose corn syrup.

Much like the PSL returning this fall, I can see these drinks being brought back next summer.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall – Berry Prickly Pear – 180 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein. Mango Pineapple – 180 Calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein.

Purchased Price: $4.45
Size: Tall
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Berry Prickly Pear)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Mango Pineapple)
Pros: I don’t feel a sugar high drinking these unlike other Frappuccinos. Mango Pineapple is a better piña colada. High quality – none of that sno-cone high fructose corn syrup!
Cons: MAKE SURE YOU STIR. Viscosity of purée reminds me of Children’s Motrin – real fruit bits might help. Inconsistent sour notes. Where’s the caramelized pineapple and hibiscus?