REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Jam

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam

There has to be some mandate from Trader Joe’s corporate that gives talking points to the Hawaiian-shirted cashiers flanking the stores. The bespectacled, olive-skinned gentleman scanned all my groceries and stopped at the new-ish item, Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Jam.

“Have you tried this before?” he asked. This is a popular question I get when I’m not just, like, buying six handfuls of dried pasta and a gallon of Charles Shaw wine. I have also gotten “I like your shirt,” and “Why did you stare at that box of Joe Joe’s for fifteen minutes, grunt really loud, and then drop kick that bunch of bananas onto the conveyer belt?” The answer to that one is actually something reasonable about trying to look good for girls, but I have to shop at the other Trader Joe’s now.

I hadn’t tried the Uncured Bacon Jam. The man recommended toasting a sliced baguette and drizzling olive oil on it, then spreading a bit of jam on each piece during a dinner party, with a tinkling piano playing in the background, I’m sure. That sounds really nice. I went home and slathered it on some white bread with peanut butter. It was good.

I was fully prepared to hold up the container and point, declaring, “But it says ‘jam’ on the jar! Like peanut butter and jam!” in a dumb voice, but the sandwich was good. The ingredients complemented each other. In fact, I would say it’s a suitable substitute for any fruit jam use, for better or worse.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam 2

The jam itself is spreadable meat immersed in liquid. So, that seems kinda gross. It looks a little like the contents of a sink’s garbage disposal. At first taste, it’s sweet, like any fruit jam would be. It has a baby food-texture that ends in little chewy bits of meat. The sweetness subsides and opens up a smoky, savory roundness that eventually lands on a tart aftertaste.

I ate it off a knife (and only cut my tongue a tiny bit… ladies) and it proved too sweet to eat alone. Even with some bread, anything more than a dollop was too sweet to bear. Like any other jam, a little goes a long way. One thing I did notice is that one of the main ingredients is “dark brown sugar,” which makes this more of a faux-maple bacon food item. The jam definitely needs to pair with something bold to counteract the cloying element.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam 3

The jar itself says to add it to pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers, but I only had it in a peanut butter sandwich and with a grilled cheese. If you use a sharp cheddar/muenster combo, it helps balance the flavor profile nicely, if you don’t use too much. I can’t really think of too many other times I’m putting jam on things, though. With the bacon trend in the rearview mirror, the usefulness of this is a little in question.

Perhaps the jam is not as versatile as the jar would have you believe, but I can see how a tiny spot of this stuff would work at a dinner party with all your Trader Joe’s cashiers in attendance. They’re all sitting around the table wearing Hawaiian shirts, serving tiny paper cups of coffee and commenting on each other’s groceries. Man, I want an invite. Do you think they serve that half-popped popcorn there? And cookie butter? Oh, rainbow carrots and hummus! That’s it. I’m going to march back there and compliment them on their shirts.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 tablespoon – 45 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 75 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 8.5 oz jar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Goes well with a peanut butter sandwich and a grilled cheese. Can be used to substitute any jam.
Cons: When do you put jam on anything? Can be a little too sweet.

REVIEW: Burger King Chicken Fries Rings

Burger King Chicken Fries Rings

Chicken Rings.

Doesn’t that have a logical ring to it.

Sorry.

But Burger King didn’t follow my logic, they went with the convoluted name Chicken Fries Rings. I can understand their logic. These rings of chicken fall under the Chicken Fries banner, but I imagine when most folks order them they’ll call them Chicken Rings, which is what I did and the cashier knew exactly what I wanted.

So Burger King’s Chicken Fries Rings are what’s next in fast food chicken finger food technology.

Cue up Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Oh, it’s not?

Cue up “Yakety Sax” to take us back to 2011 when White Castle introduced their Chicken Rings.

Burger King’s version looks exactly like White Castle’s — flat rings with a seasoned golden brown coating. They’re aerodynamic enough that if you wanted to fling them they’d probably get more airtime than a Burger King onion ring. So let the food fights begin!

Burger King Chicken Fries Rings 2

A serving has six pieces and comes with your choice of dipping sauce. I went with BK’s Zesty Sauce. I’m sure the breading and spices are the same ones used on their straight Chicken Fries, but these rings taste better. They have a stronger flavor and the spices stand out a bit more. Maybe it’s because there’s more surface area touching my tongue with each bite. I don’t know. I’m no food physicist. But I do know they have enough peppery flavor that I’d be fine eating these without a dipping sauce, which is something I can’t say about McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

Their exterior is not what I would consider crispy, but it’s also not soggy. When I bit into them there was a little noise, but not enough to rattle my brain with every chew. I wish these came out crispier. The white meat chicken was on the dry side, but the dipping sauce hides that.

Burger King Chicken Fries Rings 3

One issue I’ve always had with Burger King’s Chicken Fries is their lack of chicken meat. Of course, being the shape of fries makes it hard to fit a decent amount of chicken into one. But I don’t feel the same about these Chicken Rings. Their flat and round shape allows them to have about twice the amount of chicken.

Overall, I enjoyed Burger King’s Chicken Fries Rings and I do think taste-wise they’re a step above their Chicken Fries and miles above their regular chicken nuggets. But for those looking for value will probably prefer BK’s regular Chicken Nuggets, which currently are available for $1.49 for 10-pieces.

(Nutrition Facts – 310 calories, 18 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1020 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 17 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $6.99 (value meal)*
Size: 6-pieces
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: They have more flavor than BK’s Chicken Fries, even though they’re made with the same breading. I’m fine with eating them without a dipping sauce. Zesty Sauce. More aerodynamic than a BK Onion Ring.
Cons: Its name. Looks like White Castle’s version. Breading isn’t very crispy. Chicken meat was on the dry side. BK’s Chicken Nuggets.

*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: Wendy’s Crispy Chicken BLT

Wendy's Crispy Chicken BLT

“What if I want to buy it by itself?” I asked.

She responded, “You can buy it by itself but it’s from over here and doesn’t have bacon on it.” The cashier gestured at the value menu, at their value chicken sandwich. At least at this Wendy’s, they do not sell the Crispy Chicken BLT alone. I was being railroaded into buying a meal.

In a true “Mom, don’t tell me what to do” moment, I grimaced. Yes, Wendy’s is offering a “4 for $4” deal that is basically Frankenstein-ed value menu options, and is kicking it off with a new item, the Crispy Chicken BLT.

Here’s the thing: I have piecemealed together feasts from Wendy’s in the past. This is one of my favorite places to do it. But if you’re saying I have to buy a soda and I have to buy some fries, I’m going to push back a bit. No Frosty? No baked potato? As the combinations dwindle, it feels like Dave Thomas’ ghost hand is holding my head under a vat of Wendy’s chili as he mumbles something about how ground beef should have right-angled corners.

The meal comes with a sandwich, four nuggets, a soda and fries. And once the sandwich is unwrapped, it’s clear why it comes with friends. It’s pretty tiny. Turns out, it’s a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger but with a fried white chicken patty replacing the beef.

Wendy's Crispy Chicken BLT 2

The Crispy Chicken BLT boasts a two slices of bacon, a slice of American cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato on top of the patty. The bacon is crispier than I’m used to on other Wendy’s items, but it and the lettuce add a nice texture to the entire bite. The bun is soft but dry, and combined with the mild hum of the American cheese and mayonnaise, can get a little overbearing at times.

The chicken itself is fine—the white meat is free of soft bones (unlike a McChicken, sometimes) and contrasts nicely to the sodium boost the pork adds. The patty is nothing particularly special, similar to most other sandwiches on the value menu, but this seems to complement the other ingredients a tad better than the beef counterpart.

How was the rest of the meal? I would have liked a Frosty, to be honest. The fries seemed like overkill, but were fine. And surprisingly, I did not get sick of chicken, as I gulped down four nuggets no problem (didn’t they use to have five nuggets?).

I’m not a fan of the “4 for $4” promotion. It looks too much like 4-4-4, which gives off Illuminati vibes, and the entire situation definitely feels like paying for a cable package when all I need is Warriors basketball, the Property Brothers and the People v. OJ Simpson. “Kar-dash-i-an! Kar-dash-i-an!”

The sandwich is a decent value menu item, and four bucks is a pretty good price for a meal. Just lemme pick my own stuff, Wendy’s.

(Nutrition Facts – 440 calories, 24 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 950 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber, and 20 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4 (includes meal)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Serviceable value menu item. Better than the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. Chicken and bacon go together well, lettuce adds a nice crisp.
Cons: Cheese and bread can overwhelm. You need to buy four things at once.

REVIEW: Red Robin Red Ramen Burger

Red Robin Red Ramen Burger

Much like how all the Brits are stealing all the good lead acting gigs (Rick Grimes, Daredevil/Matt Murdock, Norman Bates… yes, they’re all Brits!) chain restaurants are taking food crazes and making their own versions. Dunkin’ Donuts did it with the Cronut, and Red Robin is doing it with the Ramen Burger.

People seem to get upset about the so called “food plagiarism,” but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so people should chill out. These foods typically come from big cities like New York or Los Angeles, and seeing as not all of us live in those cities, we deserve to try it too. We have food rights! Pretty sure that’s what Patrick Swayze died fighting for in “Red Dawn.”

Red Robin’s version of the ramen burger, dubbed the “Red Ramen Burger,” features the ramen noodle bun, is topped with teriyaki and chiu chow aioli, fried jalapeño coins, chili-infused shredded cabbage, carrot and onion, and is garnished with basil.

Red Robin Red Ramen Burger 2

The first thing you will notice with the burger is it is going to be a messy affair. I’m talking three to five napkins, minimum. Maybe a wet-nap. The ramen bun falls apart faster than a millionaire’s marriage to a stripper he fell in love with after seeing her on stage. You typically don’t eat burgers with a knife and fork but this is one you’ll want to deploy the silverware for.

They did a good job with the bun. The ramen was crispy on the outside, and when you bite into it there is soft ramen on the inside. That seems really tough to pull off. The bun is apparently seasoned but there wasn’t any noticeable taste, just tasted like normal ramen.

The teriyaki and chiu chow aioli dominates the burger and is easily the strongest flavor. Teriyaki is, er, teriyaki, and chiu chow is God knows what. The first four Google search returns didn’t give me a clear answer so I gave up. But the sweet teriyaki most definitely runs the show.

Red Robin Red Ramen Burger 3

Next you have the ginger-infused cabbage, carrot, and onion mix. This did not belong on the burger. The taste did not stand out at all because the teriyaki covered it up, so there’s just this shredded vegetable nuisance you have to deal with throughout the course of the burger. Honestly if you order it you should hold the veggies. They just get in the way, kind of like me in a pickup basketball game.

The fried jalapeño coins are insanity. They weren’t spicy but they just melt in your mouth. You still get that jalapeño flavor but without the sweating, coughing, eye watering, and the pointing and laughter of your fellow diners. The coating on the peppers was buttery and delicious. If these coins were a real currency, they’d be, like, the golden dollar of fried coins.

Red Robin Red Ramen Burger 4

My burger was cooked perfectly and overall was a unique treat that you don’t typically see anywhere. The ceramic cat in the burger promo suggested I eat the burger with a Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale, so I gave in like a sad sheep and listened. They did pair really well together, and I got a good chuckle when the bartender handed me the bottle and I exclaimed, “This isn’t my father’s ginger ale!” Oh man, it gets me every time! It doesn’t seem to get anyone else though. The bartender didn’t acknowledge the joke, he just asked if I needed anything else. Yes, I do. I need you to laugh at my joke so I don’t feel like a King Goober.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website.)

Purchased Price: $11.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Red Robin
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Ramen bun is neat. Nice teriyaki flavor. Fried jalapeño coins are heaven. Making jokes about your father’s ginger ale.
Cons: Teriyaki flavor takes over at times. Burger is rather messy. Veggies just get in the way. Having your father’s ginger ale joke fall flat.

REVIEW: Pepsi 1893 Original Cola

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola

Ah, good ol’ 1893. What a year.

Who could forget Grover Cleveland’s riveting inauguration speech? The first commemorative postage stamps were displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair. The most beloved Marx Brother, Gummo, entered the world. And it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to the 19th President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes.

While it could be argued the Supreme Court legally declaring the tomato a vegetable was the single biggest event of 1893, I would counter with the invention of Brad’s Drink. “Who’s Brad, and why should I care about his drink,” you ask? Why “Brad’s Drink” was the original name of one Pepsi Cola.

Now here we sit 123 years later with the release of Pepsi 1893. Brad would be proud.

1893 claims it’s a “bold” spin on an original cola, but I’m not sure “bold” was the best word to use. I was expecting to be hit with something completely foreign, but in reality it wasn’t that much different than what I’m used to.

In order to truly see what the hubbub was about, I picked up a 2016 Pepsi to compare.

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola 3

1893 looks and smells exactly the same, but it’s not as sweet as the current Pepsi formula.

It almost tasted a bit watered down, and like a mixed cocktail. Now I realize not everyone drinks alcohol, but if you’ve ever had a Jack and Coke Pepsi, I swear this tasted like a very weak version of that. It’s as if the bartender filled my glass to the brim with Pepsi, and then dropped a thimble worth of whiskey in. That said, I’m a Jack and Coke guy, so that actually worked for me.

If it interests you, I believe 1893 would make a really strong mixer. A “Jack and 1893” is a hipster drink if I’ve ever heard one.

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola 2

For the non-drinkers (Don’t drink, kids!) think of the “Real Sugar” Pepsi (1893 is made with Fair Trade Certified sugar). Now think about leaving a glass of it with a couple ice cubes on the counter for an hour. Now take a sip. The carbonation level here is not in the ballpark of what you’re used to, and it’s not a bad thing. I try not to drink soda too much these days, so every time I do, I get hit with what I call “bubble burn.” Regular Pepsi was like a shock to my system after drinking 1893.

I assume the slight taste difference is from the aromatic bitters and the natural kola nut extract, but I’m not gonna lie about knowing exactly what those taste like. I’ve never even seen a kola nut. Anyone who takes a sip of this and says “I can definitely taste the natural kola nut extract” is a try hard and you shouldn’t be their friend. Vin is your friend.

Beyond that, 1893’s can style is pretty deceptive looking. I imagine I’m not the only one who thought Pepsi may have gotten into the cola energy drink game. That being said, it’s a cool, sleek, “old school” style, and I dig it.

In the end, it’s just a slightly different Pepsi. If you’re looking for a huge difference, you’re not gonna get it. If someone three-card Monte’d 1893, Real Sugar Pepsi, and regular Pepsi and asked which was the “original” recipe, you’d pick 1893 without flinching, but that’s not a knock. This is a solid spinoff.

We also reviewed 1893 Ginger Cola! Click here to read our review.

(Nutrition Facts – 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 55 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: 12 fl oz. can
Purchased at: Wegmans
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Sleek Retro Can. Not as sweet. Less bubble burn. Cola with a K. No high fructose corn syrup. Wikipedia. Learning about the year 1893. Gummo love. Vin as a friend.
Cons: Not a massive difference. Tastes like a weak cocktail. Rutherford B. Dead. No one’s ever asked for a “Jack and Pepsi.” Tomato is a fruit!

REVIEW: Coffee Nut, Honey Nut, and Chili Nut M&M’s (M&M’s Flavor Vote)

Coffee Nut, Honey Nut, and Chili Nut M&M's (M&M's Flavor Vote)

Let’s get one thing straight: Peanut M&M’s are the best.

Well, technically, Peanut Butter M&M’s are the best, but the classic whole-roasted peanut M&M’s, represented by the overly optimistic, decidedly plump yellow guy, are right behind them.

Don’t agree? Sorry, you’re in the minority. Pretty much anyone with a computer and a sweet tooth will rank either Peanut Butter or Peanut M&M’s at the top of the M&M’s kingdom, which if you ask me is a not to be overlooked accomplishment given that Mars has mostly been focusing flavor additions more in the white chocolate and milk chocolate spectrum.

Well, Mr. Yellow Guy is finally getting the last laugh, because M&M’s has introduced three new Peanut flavors that America will get to choose from before the winner gets rushed into the regular M&M’s rotation. And by last laugh, I mean literally last. He is, after all, about to get eaten.

Coffee Nut M&M's 1

First up is the Coffee M&M’s. As anyone from Canada knows, coffee and candy just belong together (Dear Canadians: I live in Texas, please mail Coffee Crisp.) These are really awesome, and get my vote for the next Peanut flavor.

Coffee Nut M&M's 2

While I was hoping for an earthy, robust roasted coffee finish that gradually overtakes the sweetness (like you might get in a chocolate-covered expresso bean), I can’t complain about the mocha vibe that resonates as soon as the shell begins to dissolve, even if it is a mocha vibe with seven extra pumps of vanilla syrup and four Splendas. Come to think of it, these taste a lot like coffee Jelly Belly beans, except with a peanut. Frankly, that makes them all the better.  

Honey Nut M&M's

Moving right along, I imagine the idea for Honey Nut M&M’s came into being at the weekly golf outing of yellow anthropomorphic food spokespeople. Given the natural friendliness of both the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee and the Yellow M&M’s guy, this flavor combination was bound to happen. I was also bound to like the flavor given the fact that Honey Nut Chex is in my Top 10 cereals of ALL TIME, but unfortunately the M&M’s didn’t live up to expectations. The characteristic almond flavor of Honey Nut Cheerios is definitely present as soon as you get at the chocolate, but a weird and distracting artificial sweetness comes with it.

I was hoping, if nothing else, the peanut would have the salty and caramelized texture of a honey roasted peanut, but this wasn’t to be. Not that a whole peanut in a milk chocolate shell is that much of a disappointment, but Honey Nut M&M’s weren’t nearly as good as they should have been.

Chili Nut M&M's

Finally, Chili Nut M&M’s push M&M’s into new territory, namely the somewhat fading food trend of pairing chocolate with spicy food. These are interesting; they’re not fireballs by any mean, but there’s an initial cinnamon red hots flavor that enters your mouth as soon as the shell starts to dissolve. A tingling backheat resonates through the milk chocolate, and then really comes on strong once you crunch through the peanut. The last sensation you get is cayenne burn that lasts for a couple of seconds after you’ve finished. I know its tantamount to declaring the wuss card, but I’ll admit it: I needed to grab a glass of water after eating these. All in all, it’s an interesting combination if you’re a heat seeker, although more of a mild annoyance if you’re just a standard M&M’s eater.

Adding to the Peanut M&M’s lineup was long overdue, but I’d be lying if I said any of the new flavors catapulted to the top of the M&M’s flavor list. While Coffee Nut is a welcome addition, the other two flavors taste more like novelties than anything else. And even though I don’t think any of them take a lot away from the smooth milk chocolate and crunchy roasted peanut taste of our adorable yellow friend, I will say there’s something about the classic that’s just hard to improve on.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pack or 49 grams – 250 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: 88 cents each
Size: 1.75 oz.
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Coffee Nut)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Honey Nut)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Chili Nut)
Pros: Coffee Nut flavor has lasting notes of coffee and vanilla. Familiar crunchy shell roasted peanut, and smooth milk chocolate of Peanut M&M’s. Yellow anthropomorphic food spokespeople golf outings.
Cons: None of the flavors beat the classic Peanut M&M’s. Not an overly robust coffee finish. Honey Nut flavor has cloying artificiality. No honey roasted peanut. Chili Nut M&M’s only brings heat, not additional flavor.