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.

REVIEW: Starbucks Birthday Cake Frappuccino

Starbucks Birthday Cake Frappuccino

Happy 20th Birthday, Starbucks Frappuccino!

And I’m sorry to everyone, including myself, who feels old after reading the previous sentence.

Yup, the Starbucks Frappuccino has been around for 20 years. And, as Oreo and Pop-Tarts have taught us, the appropriate way to celebrate a significant birthday of a sugary treat is to come out with a birthday cake flavored version of it.

I’m also sorry to everyone who’s reading this review because the Starbucks Birthday Cake Frappuccino was for sale only between March 26-30. But, who knows, it could come back every year for the Frappuccino’s birthday. Or during Howard Schultz’s birthday. Or when the Starbucks Siren sings the Happy Birthday song.

The limited time blended beverage combined a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino (vanilla bean, milk, and ice) with hazelnut syrup and is topped with a raspberry-infused whipped cream. The pink whipped cream and the beverage’s white color brought up one question in my mind.

Will this be sold in Asia as the Hello Kitty Frappuccino that comes with a red bow-shaped crazy straw?

Even though the raspberry whipped cream came between my nose and the Vanilla Bean Frappuccino base, the blended drink smelled like vanilla ice cream when I took a sniff through the hole in the Starbucks cup’s dome lid. The raspberry whipped cream didn’t have a noticeable aroma, but it did have a light, sweet raspberry flavor.

Starbucks Birthday Cake Frappuccino Raspberry Whipped Cream

The combination of vanilla, hazelnut, and raspberry doesn’t sound like it would taste like cake, but, holy crap, it did taste like a heavily frosted cake. So much so that it made me wish I had stuck a lit candle into it so I could blow it out before drinking it. The vanilla syrup and raspberry whipped cream brought out the cake frosting flavor while the hazelnut helped imitate the cakeiness in the drink. I didn’t get to drink it until after a car ride home and pictures were taken, but the consistency of the blended beverage was still slightly icy.

Just like the Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, there’s no coffee in the Birthday Cake Frappuccino. So the only jolt of energy you’d get from it would be from the dozens of grams of sugar it contains. Then you’ll crash as hard as an 8-year-old at a birthday party about an hour after the cake was served.

The Birthday Cake Frappuccino was delightful and I think everyone who has a sweet tooth should try…oh wait. That’s right. As I mentioned near the beginning of this review, it’s no longer being offered. However, don’t fret, my sugary friends. If you want something close, minus the raspberry whipped cream, you can order yourself something off the secret Starbucks menu — the Cake Batter Frappuccino. Just get a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino with a couple of pumps of hazelnut syrup, drink, and wait for the sugar crash.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website, but here’s the nutrition facts for a Grande Vanilla Bean Creme Frappuccino with whole milk and whipped cream – 400 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 59 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 57 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Birthday Cake Frappuccino
Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: Grande (16 oz.)
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It’s surprising vanilla, hazelnut, and raspberry ends up tastes like cake. Matches Hello Kitty outfits. SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR!
Cons: No caffeine. Available for only a few days. Learning the Frappuccino is 20 years old makes me feel old. Sugar crash.

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Buttah Cookie Core Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's Peanut Buttah Core Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry’s first wave of Core ice creams consisted of ice cream surrounding a core of ooey, gooey stuff that was sort of like eating a sundae straight out of the pint.

The idea was pure genius and highly successful, if you ask my freezer, which currently contains three pints of the stuff. If you ask my freezer, also inquire as to what’s in the Ziploc in the back of it, because I forgot to label it before I threw it in there and now I’m scared because I think it’s been in there for some years and I should probably just throw it away.

Now they’ve come out with three different Cookie Core varieties. The Boom Chocolatta version sounded like way too much chocolate for my taste, and I still don’t really understand what Speculoos are, so I figured my best bet would be to try Peanut Buttah Cookie Core.

Ben & Jerry’s describes it as “Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Crunchy Peanut Butter Sugar Bits, Peanut Butter Cookies & a Peanut Butter Cookie Core”. This raised Peanut Buttah above just “default flavor” status, because just reading that description probably made those with peanut allergies reach for their EpiPen.

Speaking of EpiPens, have you ever seen the commercial that advertises them? “Ask your doctor about EpiPen today!” What person with a severe allergy doesn’t already know about EpiPens? I imagine someone watching the commercial and saying to themselves, “Wait, you mean I don’t have to take an ambulance ride to the emergency room with my throat closed up every time I accidentally eat something that came in contact with shellfish? This is amazing, and I’m going to get a new doctor since I should have heard about this years ago!”

Sorry, I just had to share that. It’s been bugging me for a while now.

I’ve always considered the gold standard of peanut butter cookies to be my mom’s, who always baked them at Christmas time. Since you probably haven’t tried my mom’s homemade cookies, I give second place to Grandma’s brand, which has the bonus of being available year-round but doesn’t make the kitchen smell awesome.

All other peanut butter cookies pale in comparison, and I hate the taste of artificial peanut butter flavoring, so I approached Peanut Buttah Cookie Core with caution. I also wondered why we had to go with the unnecessarily dorky “Buttah”.

Ben & Jerry's Peanut Buttah Core Ice Cream Open

The only weak explanation is the description on the carton: “For p.b. fans & cookie spread-heads who want it all, here’s a flavor that delivers it, from the creamy to the crunchy to the peanutty core of crushed-cookie stuff that spreads like buttah (and tastes even bettah).” I feel like New Yorkers are going to be insulted by this mockery of their accents. Then again, they do love insults. Eeeey!

I’m happy to report that every bite of Peanut Buttah Cookie Core is the essence of all that is good about peanut butter cookies. The ice cream alone tastes like it, but I dare you to catch a bite that doesn’t contain some evenly-dispersed chunks of delicious peanut butter cookie.

The same goes for the “crunchy peanut butter sugar bits”, that strike me as more grainy than crunchy. “Grainy” doesn’t usually sound like a positive descriptor for food, but in this case it’s representative of the sugar bits that are big enough to crunch and add an extra layer of texture to the ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's Peanut Buttah Core Ice Cream Top

As for the core, it’s like the distilled essence of a peanut butter cookie. Smooth yet crunchy, cookie yet buttery, it is rich, delicious and everything that a Cookie Core should be.

I only have two complaints about Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Buttah Cookie Core Ice Cream. The first is that it comes off as having only one note of flavor. Trust me, if you love peanut butter cookies, you’ll love this ice cream. And the various textures come through in each bite. But it lacks the mishmash of flavors that Ben & Jerry’s is so well-known for.

The second is that it’s so rich. With all that peanut butter cookie going on, after just a few spoonfuls I felt like I’d already overindulged. This may not be a problem for some, but to me, I could only eat it in small doses.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup — 320 calories, 190 calories from fat, 21 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 20 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein, 8% vitamin A, 10% calcium, 2% iron.)

Item: Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Buttah Cookie Core Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Absolute peanut butter cookie taste. EpiPens saving lives. Plentiful peanut butter cookie chunks. Wonderful blend of textures.
Cons: Bit of a one-trick pony. Mystery freezer items. Too rich for prolonged consumption. Insulting New Yorkers. Peanut allergies.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

It’s hard to believe Taco Bell decided to get out of their Tex-Mex comfort zone with their new Sriracha Quesarito. But then again, I guess it was inevitable since sriracha continues to be a popular ingredient.

It’s gotten so trendy that if you went to a grocery store and threw a open bottle of sriracha at a random aisle, there’s a very good chance the mess would hit something sriracha flavored. And sriracha’s growth can also be seen in the fast food industry. Subway offered their Sriracha Chicken Melt, Jack in the Box has sriracha sandwiches and breakfast burritos, White Castle put it on their sliders, and Pizza Hut offers it as topping and crust options.

Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito features a burrito stuffed with premium Latin rice, seasoned ground beef, reduced fat sour cream, and Taco Bell’s own sriracha, and a quesadilla with nacho cheese sauce and more sriracha that’s wrapped around the burrito.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 2

I haven’t had the original Quesarito, but from what I’ve read, it’s tastes and eats like a burrito. So I expected the Sriracha Quesarito to taste like a burrito with sriracha.

Let’s talk about the sriracha first.

As I ate the Sriracha Quesarito, I wasn’t sure if there was enough sauce on the one I received or if the other ingredients were muting the sauce’s flavor, because I couldn’t really taste the sauce in about half the bites. Whatever flavor I could get, I considered it to be everything I expect sriracha to be.

Garlicky? Check.

Peppery? Check.

Tangy? Check.

While I couldn’t taste the sauce too much, there was a nice amount of heat. And I imagine if the sour cream wasn’t an ingredient in the Sriracha Quesarito, it would be a bit hotter.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 3

The sauce went well with the premium Latin rice and seasoned ground beef (you can also get it with shredded chicken and steak). Actually, the cilantro, garlic, and onion in the rice paired well with the sriracha when I could taste it. The nacho cheese sauce and sriracha in the quesadilla made a nice sriracha con queso that gushed into my mouth a few times as I ate my way through the entree.

Although I didn’t get a strong punch of sriracha flavor in every bite, I did enjoy Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito. I think if you’re a fan of the sauce, you should definitely give it a try. The Asian-Tex-Mex combination does work and I’d like to see sriracha in more Taco Bell items. Or I’d love to see Taco Bell’s sriracha sauce end up in packets.

(Nutrition Facts – 650 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1720 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito
Purchased Price: $3.29*
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It has sriracha. Asian-Tex-Mex combination works. Sauce has a nice heat. Premium Latin rice pairs well with the sriracha. Cheese from quesadilla oozing into my mouth. Addition of sriracha in the quesadilla.
Cons: Sour cream bringing down the heat. Simple combination of ingredients. Half of the time, I couldn’t really taste the sriracha.

*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: Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost (Pineapple Orange Mango and Strawberry Kiwi)

Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost

When I saw the bizarre, trippy commercial for Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost energy drinks during the Super Bowl, I got pretty excited. An energy drink with some kind of hallucinogen in it? WOOHOO! Well, at least that’s what the commercial led me to believe, but I was intent on finding out for myself.

The description on the bottles are kind of interesting. Flavored sparkling juice beverage blend from concentrate with other natural flavors. I was under the impression it was a normal energy drink, but right away I noticed they weren’t as acidic and sugary as others on the market.

It has coconut water, contains 10 percent juice, and with the can being only 12 ounces and 60 calories per can, it’s definitely healthier than a lot of other energy drinks.

It comes in two flavors, Energizing Strawberry Kiwi and Energizing Pineapple Orange Mango. Did they really need to use the word “energizing?” I mean, it’s called Kickstart, and it’s sold amongst other energy drinks. And they use the same term on both flavors. They should use different ones, like, I don’t know, “Pump You Up Strawberry Kiwi.” Just my thoughts.

Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost Orange Pineapple Mango

Pineapple Orange Mango beats out Strawberry Kiwi big time in the taste department. It has three fruit flavors, and though you might think something would get lost in the mix, all three flavors actually come through, with pineapple and orange being the most prominent. It drinks like a mix between a soda and a sparkling juice, and isn’t as carbonated as much as normal energy drinks are. It was very pleasant to drink.

The cans say, “with just the right amount of KICK” because they have 68 milligrams of caffeine.

But they don’t say anything about containing acid or some other drug that will make my cat dance or my statues come to life and have deep philosophical conversations with me, but I saw the commercial. I know what’s going on here.

Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost Strawberry Kiwi

The Strawberry Kiwi was kind of weak. I really just tasted strawberry, and since the flavor wasn’t nearly as potent as the Pineapple Orange Mango, the carbonation is more noticeable and it just doesn’t work as well as its companion flavor.

Both contain coconut water, but it must not be much. I couldn’t taste a hint of the distinctive flavor in either. But I’m not really complaining, as coconut water doesn’t have the greatest taste.

I drank half of each so I could see what was up with the energy boost I was supposed to receive, but honestly I didn’t really get too much of the kick I was promised. Now you may drink this and get a decent kick, but it didn’t do much for me.

But despite the lack of boost, I did find the hydrating part to be true. I would normally stay away from an energy drink if I needed a thirst quencher, but these drinks were darn refreshing.

As for the hallucinating… well, it never came. That commercial was so misleading. Promising me free drugs in a can that would make me dance and hallucinate, on top of giving me an energy boost. And what do I get? Nothing. Well, I did get a tasty Pineapple Orange Mango drink that I would have again. And I gained the knowledge that Strawberry Kiwi isn’t worth my time.

But most importantly, I realized that you shouldn’t seek out hard drugs inside cans of Mountain Dew energy drinks. You should just call your shady friend Peanut and see if he’s currently in or out of jail and whether or not he can hook you up.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 130 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 14 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, 68 milligrams of caffeine, 0 grams total fat, 130 mg of sodium, 15 grams total carbohydrate, 14 grams sugars, 0 grams protein, 68 milligrams of caffeine, 75% vitamin c, 60% niacin, 60% vitamin b6, 45% pantothenic acid, 10% phosphorous. Strawberry Kiwi – )

Item: Mountain Dew Kickstart Hydrating Boost
Purchased Price: 2/$3.79
Size: 12 oz. can
Purchased at: Gulf Gas Station
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Pineapple Orange Mango)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Strawberry Kiwi)
Pros: Pineapple Orange Mango was quite tasty. Less sugary and acidic than typical energy drinks. Only 60 calories per can. Having a shady friend named Peanut.
Cons: Strawberry Kiwi was pretty weak. Drinks did not offer much of a kick. Misleading commercials. Having a shady friend named Peanut.