REVIEW: Panda Express General Tso’s Chicken

Panda Express General Tso's Chicken

Who is General Tso?

Twho cares?

All I really care about is whether years of waiting for Panda Express to develop their own version of the iconic American Chinese dish was worth it. I’ve always found it odd that the fast food chain that’s responsible for introducing many Americans to some kind of Chinese food didn’t have their own version of THE dish that was specifically made in Chinese American restaurants to introduce American taste buds to Chinese food.

And I find it even odder that Panda Express, which is known for entrees that consists of crispy chicken coated a sweet and savory sauce, like Orange Chicken, SweetFire Chicken Breast, and Honey Sesame Chicken Breast, didn’t have the sweet and savory General Tso’s Chicken until now.

The Panda Express version features crispy all-white meat chicken, green beans, red and yellow bell peppers, and onions tossed with a sweet, spicy, and tangy sauce.

I feel the best way to share what I think of it is to compare it with another iconic sweet and spicy Chinese chicken dish that’s supposed to appeal to American palates — Orange Chicken.

Panda Express’ General Tso’s Chicken is like Orange Chicken’s boring cousin who was brought up in a household where he watched 30 minutes of TV per day, wasn’t allowed to drink soda, and ate lots of vegetables. Orange Chicken is the fun one that everyone loves because it’s mostly sweet, a little spicy, and it doesn’t come with lame vegetables.

While the extremely popular Panda Express entree is more sweet than savory, the chain’s General Tso’s Chicken is more savory than sweet and comes with FOUR different vegetables. I guess being that way could make it seem like a refined version of Orange Chicken.

Its sauce isn’t as slimy as what’s on Orange Chicken, but that’s probably because there’s less sugar. Along with the light sweetness, there’s also a noticeable soy sauce flavor and pepperiness. It’s a tasty sauce that I think does a great job at honoring the dish. However, there were a couple of times when I asked myself, “Why do I taste hot dog water in my mouth?” And there was a moment when its flavor reminded me of those Lay’s Chinese Szechuan Chicken Potato Chips, which I didn’t love.

Much like I’ve experienced with Orange Chicken, the breading was still a little crispy, even though it’s coated in a sauce. The chicken inside was a little dry. The bell peppers and onions also give the entree a crisp texture. My double serving of the dish was heavy on the onions, but light on the green beans.

Is Panda Express’ General Tso’s Chicken worth getting?

I want to say “Tno” just because that would make an awesome ending, but that would be a complete lie. It’s not Orange Chicken good, but I enjoyed it. So if you’re at Panda Express, Tgo ahead and try it.

(Nutrition Facts – 5.7 oz serving – 330 calories, 100 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 910 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, and 19 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $8.40
Size: 2-Choice Entree Plate
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nice change of pace from Orange Chicken or SweetFire Chicken Breast. More savory than sweet sauce. Crispy breading. Crispy vegetables.
Cons: Not as good as Orange Chicken. Chicken was a little dry. Why do I taste hot dog water? Not being able to use “Tno” to end a review.

REVIEW: Nabisco Chips Ahoy Thins Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Chips Ahoy Thins Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Whether they’re about a tree falling in the forest or a bear dropping logs in the woods, there are plenty of age-old questions to ponder. One of my favorites is: “What do holiday cookies do once Christmas is over?”

Some answers are obvious: speculoos fly home to visit their Dutch families, gingerbread men work as security guards at the Keebler Elves’ Hollow Tree, and butter cookies are melted down into a fine paste to make mannequins for Madame Tussauds.

But the secret life of snickerdoodles (which sounds like it could be the name of Pixar’s next movie) has long been a mystery -— until now. Now we know that during the summertime, snickerdoodles everywhere hit the treadmill to become Cinnamon Sugar Chips Ahoy! Thins.

During the winter, snickerdoodles need to be thick in order to supply Santa with enough energy to travel 650 miles per second and reach every home in one night. But now that it’s cookie bikini season, snickerdoodles have to stay competitive with every other trendy treat.

I mean, have you seen Oreo’s midriff in that dark brown two-piece?

Chips Ahoy Thins Cinnamon Sugar Cookies 2

Each Cinnamon Sugar Chips Ahoy! Thin is thin. And I don’t mean the “someone pushed the spatula down a little too hard” kind of thin. This is the “touched by an old gypsy woman from a Stephen King novel” kind of thin.

The Thins have the girth of 2-3 stacked dimes, but they’re far from sterling when it comes to fragility. They’ll shatter into bits the moment you so much as think an unflattering thought about their mother, so don’t pack these as a snack before a half marathon or Slipknot concert. This crumbliness also gives them a mildly crisp, yet disappointingly light “crunch.” It’s like eating that last, awkwardly browned cookie in a batch.

You know, the one that was just barely large enough to justify baking instead of gobbling down the raw, doughy evidence?

Chips Ahoy Thins Cinnamon Sugar Cookies 3

The flavor is a two-part deal. The Chips Ahoy! Thins’ plain sections are half-sweet, half-bland and sandy, as if they were the result of some deluded 8-year old’s entrepreneurial quest to invent a cookie you can make while relaxing on a hot beach.

Thankfully, the overall size and dense chip ratio of these one-bite wonders means that there’ll rarely be a nibble without one or more creamy cinnamon baking chips. The slightly buttery, mildly milky, and faintly spicy chips smack of cinnamon sugar goodness, and their icing-esque nature is what makes these Cinnamon Sugar Chips Ahoy! Thins taste like abridged snickerdoodles.

But the problem with these crumbly Thins is that they’re all payoff and no buildup. The sugary cinnamon punch strikes fast and is vaporized into oblivion just as quickly—don’t expect any layers of complex flavor that unravel as you chew. It’s like a rollercoaster that instantly drop you 100 feet before booting you off the ride. Your only choice is to get back in line, or in this case: clear another line of cookies.

Despite my complaints of fleeting ecstasy, I think Cinnamon Sugar Chips Ahoy! Thins are a step in the right direction for condensed cookies. They use their size to their advantage; if this gimmick were tried in full-sized Chips Ahoy! cookies, the goodness of the chips would get lost in a desert of boring dough.

Plus, their airy crispness makes them taste exactly like the imaginary “Snickerdoodle Toast Crunch” cereal I always put on my Christmas list. One of these days, General Mills Claus will inevitably deliver, but in the meantime…

Chips Ahoy Thins Cinnamon Sugar Cookies 4

Ho ho ho.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 cookies – 150 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 60 milligrams of sodium, 20 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 7 oz.
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: The surprisingly creamy wallop of microcosmic snickerdoodle chips. Gloriously milk-soaked cinnamon sugar shards. Cookie swimsuit competitions. Posing with a butter cookie paste replica of Bill Murray.
Cons: Rare nibbles of Saharan cookie dryness. The Chips Ahoy! equivalent of a Top Thrill Dragster ride. Accidentally eating thirty 30¢-thick cookies. The unlikelihood of Gingerbread Toast Crunch. Sandy selling sandy Sandies by the seashore.

REVIEW: Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites

Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites

Let’s get one thing straight. Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites aren’t “bites.”

They’re balls.

Which is fine, because the country is in love with balls right now. You’ve got Pokemon Go, baseball season, Powerball, and the Olympics crowding the scene, but Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites are what you should be focusing on.

Skippy introduced their P.B. Bites line about a year ago with Double Peanut Butter and Pretzel varieties, and they’ve proven to be a hit with the public. I’d never noticed the P.B. Bites previously because choosy reviewers like me choose Jif, but for TIB I decided to give it a shot and picked up a pack of their new Graham Cracker variety.

The P.B. Bites come in small cup-holder sized containers, because I assume Skippy thought people might take a swill of these during the morning commute. While I advise against that (due to the legal threat of causing something similar to a Pokemon Go-induced car accident), the peanut butter poppers are certainly portable and are easy to take to work or school.

Upon opening the package, I was hit with a strong wave of peanut butter scent. The smell is of a nicely roasted peanut butter, and gave off none of the artificial notes you may typically find in the peanut butter candy at the bottom of your Halloween spoils.

Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites 3

The P.B. Bites glisten in the light (note to self: make Mom a peanut butter diamond necklace for Christmas), and that sheen is indicative of the oily nature of the balls. Since the bites’ exteriors are coated in peanut butter, they’re soft and tacky to the touch and can only be handled for a few moments before eating (lest you want to have a real big mess on your hands). Thankfully though, the bites aren’t sticky, so you’ll be able to pop a few before getting club hand.

While you may expect the P.B. Bites have a little bit of chew to them, this is furthest from the case. The soft peanut butter exterior of the balls melts away to reveal a small, crunchy graham cracker center. The peanut butter tastes surprisingly more natural than what you typically expect from a jar of Skippy, with a deep peanut flavor. And while peanut butter from the jar has a tendency to collect on the roof of your mouth, I am pleased to share that Skippy’s P.B. Bites do no such thing. Glass of milk be gone!

Skippy Graham Cracker P.B. Bites 4

Regrettably, while the Bites’ crunch is satisfying, the tiny graham cracker center lacks any discernible flavor and is overwhelmed by the peanut butter. This makes sense, because I can imagine if I covered myself in peanut butter and ate myself, I’d be incredibly delicious. And while the bites may not provide any graham cracker flavor, you’ll find yourself not caring because the rest of the bite is just so damn good.

Overall, with their natural flavor and pleasing crunch, Skippy’s Graham Cracker P.B. Bites are a pleasant snack that any peanut butter connoisseur would appreciate. Just don’t try to throw one at a Charizard.

(Nutrition Facts – 15 pieces – 160 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 6 oz. tub
Purchased at: Star Market
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Pop ‘em in your Pontiac. Natural peanut butter taste. Satisfying crunch. Good for people with Arachibutyrophobia.
Cons: Melts in your hand and also in your mouth. Tiny, flavorless center. Thoughts of self-cannibalism.

REVIEW: Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Ah, summertime.

Nothing but pool parties and crickets and Christmas in July, and, while I know I’m supposed to celebrate the mid-summer Noel on the 25th, I am a rebel, hooligan, and all-around dastardly naysayer, so it should come as no surprise that I broke all the Christmas laws and bought my present the day after.

It involved churros. I have no regrets.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 2

Krispy Kreme’s interpretation of the churro starts by going geometrically rogue, translating the fried delight from the commonly seen line into a circumference more tightly braided than Wednesday’s pigtails sent through a Glam Twirl.

The doughnut’s hefty for its size, coming doused with so much cinnamon sugar, one could ball it up and use it as sculpting clay to recreate the Sagrada Familia in edible form. And that mahogany-tinted sugar thwacks into action with cinnamon roll-like warmth, dodging the common flaw in which a cinnamon product ends up tasting like an Atomic Fireball. Instead, bites dissipate into sugary, lightly cinnamon-spiced crumbles, leaving a trace of grease behind.

That isn’t to say the doughnuts are perfect. There’s definitely a “Manufactured cake doughnut” quality to them that makes me think they put them in some Dyson vacuum dehydrator that sucks the moisture out of all that is joy. As a result, the doughnuts taste dry and a little stale, missing out on the eggy, custardy texture of a churro and its crispy, freshly fried outside.

But perhaps that’s nitpicking. Heck, even the leftovers aren’t too shabby if you get creative. Put one in the toaster and witness how it becomes a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart crossed with a giant piece of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which means tonight’s dinner of doughnuts and ice cream is all sorted out.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 3

Some days, the world is unbearable. Today? Is not one of those days. Sure, this doughnut may not hold up to Statler and Waldorf’s orthodox standards of traditional churros, but what is a traditional churro? Is it eggy or airy? Custardy or crumbly? Dense or light? With cinnamon sugar? Without? Dipped in chocolate? Dipped in frosting? Dipped in nothing? Do I get them at a bar in Spain? A sidewalk vendor? Disneyland? A kazoo store?

Survey says: whichever version you love!

And while this interpretation may just be a dry-ish cake doughnut that’s been doused in cinnamon sugar, I enjoyed all 51 grams of it, especially when topped, toasted, or dunked in coffee or ice cream, so pull out the eggnog and let the Charlie Brown Christmas album play because Christmas in July comes but once a year. Let’s celebrate.

(Nutrition Facts – 190 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Krispy Kreme
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Cakey. Chunked with cinnamon sugar. Does not taste like Atomic Fireball. Even better when toasted. Christmas in July. Glam Twirl. Statler and Waldorf.
Cons: Cake doughnut masquerading as churro. Pretty dry. A little too crumbly. May encourage breaking Christmas laws. Non-July Christmas is still six months away.

REVIEW: Lay’s Brazilian Picanha Potato Chips

Lay's Brazilian Picanha Potato Chips

I recently went to a Brazilian steakhouse and it was one of the best dining experiences of my life. Servers there bring cuts of various meats to you every few minutes, like brisket, tri-tip, bacon-wrapped sirloin, chicken wings, chicken hearts, lamb, sausage, pork loin, and many more. But my favorite was the picanha.

Picanha is a cut of beef towards the rear of the cow and it’s popular in Brazil. Technically, it’s part of a cow’s butt, but it’s so wonderful. The picanha I gobbled up had a great meaty flavor, was tender, and I’m drooling just thinking about it.

If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, servers bring the glistening meat to you on skewers and they slice off a piece, which you take with tongs. But after tasting picanha, every time a server brought it back, I always yelled, “I wanna…more of the picanha!”

Okay, I didn’t scream that out loud, but my taste buds probably were.

But this is not a Yelp review for Brazilian steakhouses, this is a review for Lay’s Brazilian Picanha Potato Chips, which is part of their Passport to Flavor line the brand is offering this summer.

These are not just steak-flavored chips. They also have seasoning that’s supposed to tastes like chimichurri sauce. If you’re wondering how these chips get their steak flavor, they get it from, according to the ingredients list, beef extract and beef fat. There’s also milk protein concentrate and skim milk listed, but I’m not a food scientist, so I’m not sure if they contribute to the steak flavor.

Lay's Brazilian Picanha Potato Chips 2

To get the chimichurri sauce, the chips are seasoned with several spices and ingredients. There’s salt (duh), oregano, parsley, dried garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and onion powder, some of which you can see on every chip.

The chips have a herby and meaty aroma, but they also smell slightly sweet. Their flavor does remind me of steak, but not the awesomeness of the picanha I experienced at a Brazilian steakhouse. Along with the meatiness, there’s also a bit of pepperiness, a bit of herbs, and a wee bit of sweetness. All together those flavor characteristics create something that tastes like steak and chimichurri sauce. While not as enjoyable as eating actual picanha, I think it’s a mighty fine tasting potato chip and it does a decent job at trying to replicate the meat.

Along with seasoning inconsistencies from chip to chip, there was something about the flavor that bothered me. I kept thinking to myself that it tasted familiar, and I kept shoving chips into my mouth to figure it out. Then it hit me. They kind of taste like a meat sauce one would find on spaghetti. It’s not a bad thing and if Lay’s ever decides to come out with spaghetti-flavored chips they already have the recipe.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 330 milligrams of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 7 3/4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Pleasant meaty, herby flavor. It also kind of tastes like spaghetti meat sauce. Actual picanha at Brazilian steakhouses.
Cons: Doesn’t make me as happy as actual picanha does. Seasoning inconsistencies from chip to chip. Chicken hearts.

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich

Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich

Quite a bit has happened in the world since Chick-fil-A last released a new breakfast sandwich.

The Star Wars franchise has been revived, Nabisco stuck Fruity Pebbles in an Oreo, and Blake Shelton married Miranda Lambert, got divorced from Miranda Lambert, and is now shacking up with the lead singer of my favorite 1990s pop-ska-rock band.

Also, I got sort of chubby. A bit rotund. Somewhat more heavyset.

Frankly, I blame the fast food breakfast sandwiches, in particular Chick-fil-A’s ethereal chicken biscuit. I know I’m supposed to be getting down with this whole moderation thing, but that’s easier said than done. Where other chains at least offer somewhat healthy breakfast sandwiches on their menus, Chick-fil-A offers oatmeal. Oatmeal? Really? Like oatmeal stands a chance against a juicy fried chicken breast nestled between a fresh-baked biscuit slathered with butter.

The new Egg White Grill sandwich changes that, and might just slow the growth of my increasing flabby diameter. And while I’m not normally one to pass on a molten egg yolk, I’m less wedded to the superiority of cooked fast food eggs over egg whites; that is, provided the texture doesn’t remind me of that time I accidentally ate a deflated water balloon (don’t ask).

Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich 2

Fortunately, that’s not the case with Chick-fil-A’s egg whites. They’re really not at all chewy, and even have a bit of sweetness and a hint of buttery flavor from the grill. I thought they tasted about the same as the whites that McDonald’s uses, but had a better texture.

The grilled chicken is excellent (no surprise) and much better than the overly salty Canadian bacon you’d get on McDonald’s Egg White Delight. The chicken has a bold chargrill flavor and zesty citrusy aftertaste that’s really flavorful without being heavy, while the size is a perfect fit on the toasted English muffin.

The muffin and single slice of cheese, which was melted nicely toward the center of the sandwich, added quite a bit of flavor. If I have one complaint, it’s that there wasn’t a slice of a juicy tomato to add a little sweetness and relieve the gooey saltiness of the cheese. Also: Bacon. But this would probably detract a bit from the healthy angle.

Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich 3

Along with the new sandwich, Chick-fil-A has revamped some of its sauces and also added a new Sweet and Spicy Sriracha sauce. I tried it on the new sandwich, and while it has an enjoyable kick and sweetness that plays well with the naturally bland egg whites, it leans closer to a conventional sweet chili garlic sauce than a Sriracha sauce. It actually detracted from the savory and salty cheese on the sandwich, and covered up some of the buttery and toasted flavor, but I’ll definitely be grabbing a couple of packets the next time I order nuggets.

Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill Breakfast Sandwich 4

I’m not ready to give up chicken biscuits completely, but the Egg White Grill provides a nice transition for trying to live out this whole moderation thing. Of course, that moderation thing could completely go out the window should Chick-fil-A decide to introduce chicken and waffles, but at this rate, I probably have a six-year cushion before that happens.

(Nutrition Facts – 300 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 3.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 970 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 grams of sugar, and 25 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.35
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Chick-fil-A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: A healthy breakfast sandwich that actually tastes desirable. Juicy grilled chicken breast and buttery egg whites provide plenty of protein. Melty cheese and perfectly toasted English muffin.
Cons: Not quite the life-changing experience of a chicken biscuit. Lacks a crunchy element like bacon or breaded chicken. Could use some more sweetness. Decreasing metabolism.