REVIEW: McDonald’s Red Velvet with Oreo McFlurry (Canada)

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry

Mike Myers. Justin Bieber. The McFlurry.

If your answer to this Jeopardy question is “What are things that came from Canada,” then you are correct (and no, we won’t take back Bieber — he’s yours now, America. Enjoy).

Yep, according to the cup (and from now on, I want all my information to come in McFlurry cup form, FYI), the McFlurry was “born in Canada. Loved around the world,” and is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. I very distinctly remember the introduction of the McFlurry — it certainly doesn’t feel like twenty years ago, but why would the cup lie to me? I feel old.

And what better way to celebrate a 20th anniversary than jumping on a years-old fad? I remember red velvet being a pretty big deal a few years ago, but is this still a thing that gets people hot and bothered? I was under the assumption that we, as a society, had reached our red velvet saturation point at least a couple of years ago, but apparently not.

And McDonald’s doesn’t even really seem to get what makes red velvet so appealing: when I think of a red velvet cake, aside from its eponymous dark-red hue, I think of abundant cream cheese frosting. It’s the combination of the mildly chocolatey cake and the sweet tang of the cream cheese frosting that makes red velvet such a comfort food classic.

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry 2

So it’s weird that McDonald’s has elected to not even try to replicate that particular flavour, sticking to the cake alone (and throwing in Oreo cookies for some reason). You’d think this would lead to so-so (at best) results, but this was surprisingly tasty.

Certainly, the cashier at the McDonald’s I went to liked it. Right after I ordered, she asked me if I had tried it before, and I told her I hadn’t. She leaned in closer, as if to tell me a secret: “it’s really good,” she said, adding almost comical emphasis to the word “really.”

It’s fairly rare that a cashier at a fast food joint even cares enough to offer their opinion on the food, so I took this as a good sign.

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry 3

And once I got over my disappointment that the cream cheese frosting was MIA, it actually was quite satisfying. It does a pretty decent job of recapturing the red velvet cake flavour — though I’m not sure how much of that is triggered by the fact that I knew what the flavour was, and by the colour. If I ate it blind, would I have been able to tell that it was red velvet? Or would I have just tasted chocolate? I’m honestly not sure, but either way, it tastes good.

It has a pretty good chocolatey taste without being overwhelmingly sweet, the Oreo bits add some crunch and flavour, and the soft serve is nice and creamy. It’s nothing too mind-blowing — it’s basically just an Oreo McFlurry with chocolate syrup and red food colouring — but sometimes the simplest things are the best.

So thanks, McDonald’s cashier, you were right. This was really good. Did the world really need its 976,874th red velvet flavoured dessert? No, probably not. But it’s here regardless, and it’s pretty tasty.

(Nutrition Facts – 530 calories, 17 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.3 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 87 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fibre, 66 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Red Velvet with Oreo McFlurry
Purchased Price: $3.79 CAN
Size: Regular
Purchased at: McDonald’s Canada
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like red velvet cake. Crunchy Oreo and creamy soft serve is a tasty combo. Not too sweet. Cashier approved.
Cons: No cream cheese frosting. Red velvet flavour might be psychological. Cup factoids that make you feel old. Justin Bieber.

REVIEW: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

There have been very few things fast food companies have done to make me upset in the nearly three decades I’ve been alive. Sure, there have been lots of occasions warranting mild annoyance, like when the price of the McDouble inevitably went above a buck or when the guy at Domino’s refused to bake a Twinkie inside of my pizza for scientific inquiry. But those times when I’ve had my heart broken over price fluctuations or menu discontinuations? Only a handful.

The debut of Arby’s delicious housemade chips in May 2013, followed by their cancellation only a few months later, was one of those times.

Like a teenage summer romance, those chips transfixed me that spring; enamoring me with their crunchy ridges and zesty seasoning, tempting my taste buds by showing a little skin, and holding my undivided attention from a myriad of suitors like Mozzarella Sticks and Onion Rings. And then, nothing.

Not even an “it’s not you, it’s me and the proliferation of limited time only menu items across the fast food marketplace” line. One day they were gone, and since then I’ve bounced around from side to side, never quite content amidst short-lived flings with pretzel bites and hushpuppies.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 2

I know I should have more self-control now that the chips have returned. I should have the perfect cover story about having moved on and fallen for a sweet potato fry or something. But I don’t, and even though the chips have changed their outward appearance-adopting a Garlic Parmesan seasoning and now coming pre-bagged—their taste is just like I remember.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 3

The potato flavor is deep and meaty, as if some chuck wagon Idaho cowboy (do they have cowboys in Idaho?) just pulled the potato from the ground and fried it. The exterior isn’t overly crunchy like store-bagged chips; instead it’s got a smooth and slightly oily mouthfeel, but in a good way which allows you to appreciate the subtle flavors developed during the frying process.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 4

I was worried at first when I didn’t see much in the way of seasoning powder on the chips, but each spud has a pronounced roasted garlic flavor. The parmesan might have been the only flavor lacking, although there’s a part of me which appreciates the subtleness of its taste. Too often anything with “parmesan” in the label is weighed down with buttermilk solids and a generic ranch flavor. But these chips deliver a more sophisticated parmesan flavor which accentuates and doesn’t stand in the way of the natural potato flavor.

If you are anything like me and were a fan of the first iteration of Arby’s Housemade Chips, then you’re going to love the new Garlic Parmesan look. The deep and rich potato flavor is just as I remember, and while the chips aren’t quite as crunchy and the whole size and bagging issues are going to make our relationship a bit more complicated, the roasted garlic flavor definitely makes up for the changes. Will I get burned again when Arby’s yanks them from stores? Of course. Is it going to stop me from loving these now? Hells no.

(Nutrition Facts – 290 calories, 14 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, 1 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 2 oz.
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Robust potato flavor puts French fries to shame. Enjoyable crunch but still enough give to make for an enjoyable texture. Deep and meaty roasted garlic flavor tastes fried into the chips. Far better than any bagged chip.
Cons: Less chips for the same price of the chips marketed in 2013. Pre-bagged chips begs the question of just how “fresh” they are. Subtle parmesan flavor might not be for everyone. Slightly undersalted. Inevitable heartbreak when discontinued.

REVIEW: Mountain Dew Dew Shine

Mountain Dew Dew Shine

Here’s a completely useless nugget of information you will never have to recall in your lifetime. Before Mountain Dew was Mountain Dew, it was slang for the clear liquor called moonshine. And now Mountain Dew is honoring its past by selling a non-alcoholic clear soda called Dew Shine.

This isn’t the first alcohol-sounding, non-alcoholic Dew the folks at Mountain Dew have developed. A few years ago, they rolled out Mountain Dew Gold, a citrus and malt liquor-flavored soda. It was supposed to roll out nationwide and it had a campaign that gave Dew fans the chance name the beverage in different regions. The nationwide rollout never happened. Instead, it was sold only in a few regions across the U.S.

However, Mountain Dew Dew Shine has been rolled out nationwide and is available in single bottles or four-packs.

There’s a lot of retro going on with bottle’s label, which looks like a weathered piece of paper and features Willie the Hillbilly, the original Mountain Dew mascot, and “It’ll Tickle Yore Innards”, the original Mountain Dew slogan. The bottle is made of glass and beverage contains real sugar, which, if you think about it, is kind of retro in this day and age of high fructose corn syrup.

The beverage is as clear as water, and to make sure it was, I filled an empty Dew Shine bottle with water, put the screw top back on, placed it next to an unopened bottle, and had someone arrange the bottle with my back turned. After comparing the two for a few moments, I couldn’t tell the difference. Can you determine which is which using the photo below?

Mountain Dew Dew Shine 2

According to the bottle, Dew Shine is a “clear citrus flavored Dew,” and with its name, I assume it might taste somewhat like moonshine. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that since I have no idea what moonshine tastes like and I’m not willing to drink moonshine because I don’t want the internet to have photos of me walking through Waikiki with no pants.

Dew Shine has a light citrusy aroma that reminds me of a generic lemon lime soda. Its flavor also has a mild citrusiness to it that leans towards lemon. But I detect a slight maltiness too. The combination is giving me flashbacks to Mountain Dew Gold, but with a much mellower flavor. The mellow flavor and light carbonation makes Dew Shine easy to drink.

Dew Shine is refreshing, not overly sweet, pleasant, and has the same amount of caffeine as a can of regular Mountain Dew (52 mg), but I’m not sure younger Dew fans would like it because it’s not like most Mountain Dew flavors. There’s no radioactive color, no bite, and it doesn’t slap you with sweetness. It’s a different kind of Dew.

The glass bottle, the beverage’s clear color, the use of real sugar, and its flavor makes it appear and taste like its for older or sophisticated taste buds. Because of those attributes, Dew Shine could be considered a Craft Dew. I also want to call it Crystal Dew.

But with that said, if I need a soda to pick me up, I would rather have regular Mountain Dew. Dew Shine has the same amount of caffeine as regular Dew, but I feel regular Dew’s combination of a sugary punch, stronger carbonation, and caffeine content does a better job at energizing me.

But if you happen to find some Dew Shine on shelves, I think it’s definitely worth picking up.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 160 calories, 0 grams of fat, 60 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 42 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 54 milligrams of caffeine.)

Item: Mountain Dew Dew Shine
Purchased Price: Way too much on eBay ($26.99)
Size: 4 pack of 12 oz bottles
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nice citrusy flavor with a bit of maltiness. A sophisticated Dew. Easy to drink. Not made with high fructose corn syrup. Same amount of caffeine as a can of regular Mountain Dew. Nifty retro label.
Cons: Younger Dew drinkers might find this flavor to be too mild when compared with other Dew flavors. Might be difficult to find. I prefer regular Dew when it comes to getting energized. The internet having photos you wish it didn’t. Only available in glass bottles.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Oreo Cheesecake Square Donut

Dunkin’ Donuts Oreo Cheesecake Square Donut

When it comes to cheese and desserts, I have mixed feelings.

Cheese and pie? No thanks. The last time I tried a slice of apple pie topped with cheddar cheese, I began gagging like my neighbor’s cat when it swallowed a whole hot dog. (Come to think of it, we never did figure out how poor ol’ Sassy Boots fit that 6-inch frankfurter down his esophagus, but damn, that’s one talented cat.)

Cheese and cake? Cheesecake!? Yes, please! I love cheesecake, so when I heard about the new Oreo Cheesecake Square at Dunkin’ Donuts, I began drooling more than my neighbor’s cat does whenever someone starts grilling a pack of Oscar Mayer Wieners. (Sassy Boots really, really likes hot dogs. Don’t judge.)

Available through April, the Oreo Cheesecake Square donut is frosted with white icing, topped with Oreo cookie crumbles, and filled with a creamy cheesecake filling. To be clear, Dunkin’ Donuts products and Oreos have mingled in the past, and Dunkin’ certainly isn’t doing anything radical or original here. Both Oreo and cheesecake flavors are hard to dislike, making the Oreo Cheesecake Square an easy shot at a crowd-pleaser.

Like most filled donuts sold at Dunkin’ Donuts, the Oreo Cheesecake Square suffers from PCD: poor cream distribution. With the filling concentrated entirely in the middle of the donut, all four corners of my Oreo Cheesecake Square were as empty as a mosh pit at a Bee Gees concert. (Ever try thrashing to “How Deep Is Your Love?” Yeah, not possible.) These first few creamless bites melded the sugary white frosting with the chocolate Oreo crumbles into a traditional cookies ‘n cream flavor.

Frankly, I’m surprised a cookies ‘n cream donut has yet to join the regular menu at Dunkin’, and this donut presents a glimpse of what we’ve been missing. The duo of white frosting and Oreo crumbles seems a perfect fit for the fluffy yeast donut base.

Dunkin’ Donuts Oreo Cheesecake Square Donut 2

As I reached the center of the donut, I encountered the cheesecake cream. The filling’s most apparent trait is its cream cheese-like tang, which pushes to the forefront of each bite. The creamy, dairy flavor is more mild than in an actual cheesecake — this could be why the filling also feels less dense than an actual cheesecake. At times, the cream’s lukewarm temperature made me uncomfortable; I’m used to eating my cheesecake chilled, and I can’t help but feel this donut would be better after an hour in the refrigerator.

Though the filling inside of the Dunkin’ Donuts Oreo Cheesecake Square isn’t a perfect replication of cheesecake flavor, I enjoyed the creamy, chocolatey, and tangy characteristics of this donut. It’s just as tasty as the other donuts on the Dunkin’ menu, but because there’s nothing groundbreaking here, I can’t call it spectacular. In other words, it’s not worth a special trip to your local Dunkin’, but it certainly deserves a spot in your next dozen.

Ya know, maybe a little cheese in desserts isn’t so bad after all.

But definitely not with my Grandma Nadezhda’s Chocolate Head Cheese Surprise. Blech.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Donut – 370 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 400 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Oreo Cheesecake Square Donut
Purchased Price: $1.04
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Frosting and Oreo crumbles blend into Cookies ‘n Cream flavor. Tangy cheesecake filling. Feels less dense than actual cheesecake. Thrashing at Bee Gees concerts.
Cons: Lukewarm cream makes me uncomfortable. Not tastier than other Dunkin’ donuts. Cats obsessed with hot dogs.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt

What is happening?!?!?!?!

Cars are driving themselves.

Cookie Monster is a life coach.

Pink chickens are running around Portland.

And now this. Partially Popped Popcorn.

Like the rest of the above news, I am terrified, curious, and impossibly hopeful. Could this be re-animated Corn Nuts, one of the most brilliantly underrated gas station snacks of all time? Or is it the gunk at the bottom of my half-burnt popcorn bag? The stuff that drilled me with two cavities? Will it be brilliant? Will it be terrible? Will it be edible? (I don’t have dental insurance, people.)

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Tumble

Bust open the bag and gaze in wonderment at the poofs. They are smaller than I imagined (think: tinier than a marble, yet larger than a ladybug), but they make up for their diminutive size in aroma: just a slight crevice in the bag and wafts of butter, salt, and slightly sweet corn breeze into the air.

Less poofy Styrofoam associated with over-popped movie kernels, Trader Joe’s special “mushroom kernel” has a slight crisp-crackle before giving way to an inside that is both crisp and smooth with each kernel having a different level of partial puffiness. The kernel bits still have a special skill of getting snagged between teeth, but it seems that my former fear of actually chomping out a tooth has no basis in reality or logic, which seems to be a common trend with most of my thoughts.

Each corn bit is coated in a salty, buttery film that strikes a balance between the nutty butter and sodium while allowing the corn’s sweetness to come in at the end. What’s better is that this film is actual butter (in fact, the entire ingredient list is as follows: popcorn, canola oil, butter, and salt). It leaves a gentle trace on one’s fingers in much the same way as Cheetos might. This butter-salt mix combines with little crumbles of corn, leaving you with salty-sweet fingers to lick at the end of your journey and, as a result, less sorrow when you find your bag is empty. Less sorrow is good.

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Bowl of Habit Forming Goodness

Well, what a pleasant surprise. I dig these partially popped nubs. They are inverted and wackadoo, and, depending on your propensity for corn-like goodies, the full bag might be in your digestive system less than 15 minutes from the moment you crack it open. The plain butter-salt flavor may be boring for adventurous tasters, but when/if you get a hankering for a simple salty snack, these are worth a shot. If you pick them up and find yourself uninterested in their Plain Jane flavor, perhaps you could put them on mac ‘n cheese before you pop it in the oven or sprinkle them on an ice cream sundae for a crunch. I imagine it all going excellently.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Popcorn Traditionalists. I’m not saying these are better than regular popcorn. I’m just saying Orville Redenbacher should be distressingly anxious about his business right now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/3 cup– 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Butter, butter everywhere. But not too much butter. Poofy. Crispy. Crunchy. Something new, delicious, and a little wonky. Low ingredient count. Corn=counts as a vegetable (right??). Cookie Monster as a life coach.
Cons: Generic butter-and-salt flavor may put some to sleep. Kernels have chance of getting stuck in teeth. Probably not REALLY a vegetable. Lack of dental insurance. Questionable pink chickens.