REVIEW: Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich

My first experience with a Wendy’s was, surprisingly, only a few years ago.

I would have tried it earlier – hell, I would have been inhaling Dave’s delicious cheeseburgers through a straw, if the laws of physics allowed – if not for my mother’s utter disdain of the establishment.

Whenever I asked if we could eat there, she never failed to go off on the familiar rant – flashback to her adolescent years. A new Wendy’s was opening up within bus distance of her house, and she was ecstatic to finally try their fabled burgers. She walked in and out within a minute, food in hand.

Immediately she knew that something was up – if it wasn’t her burger’s pungent smell, it was perhaps the meat, with its usual square shape, as well as a not-as-usual green hue, that threw her off. Regardless, she plunged in for a bite, curiosity getting the best of her.

This is where she likes to conclude her story, glossing over the (presumably) nauseating aftermath of her outing. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly keen on ever going back to a Wendy‘s again, and she simply refused to subject me to their inherent misdoings as a company. For years, I was physically barred from ever trying Wendy’s.

Thankfully, since I no longer need my mom to take me to places, I was able to try out Wendy’s new Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich!

Look, I love Wendy’s – their aforementioned cheeseburgers, their Frostys (or Frosties? Both spellings look weird to my eyes. Let‘s just go with Frostteez), and everything in between. Few nationwide fast food joints have earned my undying admiration and respect (Shoutout to Carl’s Jr./Hardee‘s, despite their goofy mascot) and Wendy’s is definitely at the top of the heap.

And I love a good, hot kick to my foods, so I was more than happy to tackle this unholy chicken sandwich.

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 2

When I opened up the little cardboard box, the first thing I noticed was an angry, saucy smell – reminiscent of nacho cheese, but not as artificial. This, it turned out, was the bright-orange ghost pepper sauce, which drowned the chicken breast with its oozing essence.

That’s good news for me, because the sauce was delicious and one of the most interesting additions to a fast food sandwich I’ve ever had.

It was fascinating because it seemed to both heat, then immediately cool down my mouth. I don’t know what the flavor scientists at Wendy’s were doing when they stumbled upon this one, but their creation is one that complements the surrounding ingredients.

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 3

And speaking of those surrounding ingredients, the diced jalapeños were another standout. They added a nice textural contrast, while providing a different sort of flavor and heat in comparison to the ghost pepper sauce.

The sliced onions were firm and crisp. And of course, there’s the breaded chicken breast, which was huge, crispy, juicy, spicy in its own right (comparatively spicier than most “spicy” chicken fillets I’ve had at other fast food places), and gets no complaints from this guy.

According to the Wendy’s website, this sandwich also contains “Colby pepper jack cheese”, which…really? I’m normally a pretty avid cheese aficionado, but there was absolutely no need for it here. It added nothing to this sandwich. What a waste of cheese!

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 4

Lastly, there’s the red jalapeño bun. I took a nibble of it and it definitely had a light kick, but when eaten with the rest of the sandwich, its flavor got lost among the other spicy parts of the sandwich. I understand Wendy’s intentions – when they say spicy, they MEAN spicy – but the bun was a bit of a disappointment.

Nitpicking aside, this was perhaps my favorite Wendy’s sandwich since their pretzel bun stuff a while back. God, I miss those pretzel buns. I’m so impressed with it that I’ll definitely be going back for seconds.

Take that, Mom!

(Nutrition Facts – 580 calories, 29 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 1390 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of protein..)

Item: Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Ghost pepper sauce is the delicious star of this thing. Balance of different flavors and textures. Carl’s Jr.
Cons: I’m still pissed about the uselessness of the cheese. Mothers banning their children from eating tasty hamburgers. Seriously, what kind of mascot is a star with sunglasses?!

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

What do we want this summer?

We want to accomplish our goals. To clean out our garages. To power wash the driveway. To fulfill that suppressed dream of joining Cirque du Soleil as a zebra.

We want to eat cold stuff. By the bucket-full. Ice cream works, but we want variety. We want snacks. Hand-sized snacks. Snacks that are parceled such that they are easy to carry, easy to share, and are arranged in such a way that you don’t have to make a big deal out of it: no sparklers or rhinestones or dainty bows, people. Just fun, simple, and sugar-laden.

Thus enters the Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Ready to be Chomped

At the size of a keychain Rubik’s Cube, each 25-gram bite comes out ready-to-go upon defrosting for two hours in the fridge, which translates to 30 minutes on my kitchen counter. Perhaps this 30 minutes seems like a Very Long Time to you (it did to me). Never fear. Simply channel your impatience into reverse engineering a Dodge Caliber or learning to play the bagpipes. Watch as 30 minutes goes by like a breeze.

Lacking the thick film of cookie butter seen in the holiday Cookie Butter Cheesecake, these come with a milder Speculoos hit than its seasonal counterpart, but the spice cookie still holds a strong presence in the form of a small swirl on the top of each bite. That swirly-gig of creamy cookie spread, coupled with the Speculoos crumb crust, just nudges at the trademark cinnamon-and-molasses spice cookie, which is plenty for me. I’m really here for the cheesecake, people.

And that cheesecake is dealt with grace. Nothing avant-garde. Just cream cheese and sugar, well-whipped and in a balanced ratio with the cookie butter. The cheesecake has that uniquely light yet dense quality that cream-cheese-based cheesecakes carry, ending with a tangy sweetness. If you’re sensitive to such tang, proceed with caution. If you adore such tang, prepare thyself to crave these at two in the afternoon, which is when they go splendidly with your afternoon coffee and lo, life is perfect.

But perfect only for a micro-second. Blink and the whole box could be gone in less time than it takes your roommate to pick up his/her socks (really, how long have those socks been there?), and, at $4.49 a box, these 12 cubes seem increasingly teeny. Luckily, the taste justifies the price and, with all that dairy and wheat pummeled somewhere in there, you can have them as part of your balanced breakfast. Some may say there’s too much sugar. You should not let such statements hold you back. I know I didn’t.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Breakfast Time

April on this East Coast is long: 30 shower-filled days, teasing false promises of “warmth.” But summer is coming. I know it. And I’m trying to be patient. These cheesecake bites? They help. They are pricey, yes, but they are worth enjoying.

Tangy, cool, and yet filled with warm Speculoos spice, they are the bridge between warm winter desserts and cool summer weather, carrying me into the Promise Land of lounging by the ocean with a glass of Kool-Aid, so pull out your over-sized flippers, grab a cheesecake bite, and prepare: summer’s coming.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – 90 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 10.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cream cheese tang. Crumbly crust. Tangy sweetness. Balanced ratio of cookie butter:cheesecake. Summer’s coming. Becoming a Cirque Du Soleil zebra.
Cons: A little pricey for the small size. Must wait for them to defrost. Realizing I have no patience. Supports Cookie Butter’s world domination. Dainty bows. Socks that are never picked up.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Chipotle Chickstar

Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Chipotle Chickstar 2

Perhaps the worst thing about Taco Bell is ordering.

Are they really going to make me say “Chickstar” out loud? Chickstar. Can I instead order the “crunchy, chewy pentagonal chicken pouch”?

Don’t test me, Taco Bell.

I walked away from that movie Chappie just because I didn’t want to have to say “Chappie” out loud to the box office. You think the branding is cute but it sounds like I’m doing jaw exercises before delivering a high school sports report on the local news. Chi-ck-stahr. Que-sah-ree-toh. Break-fast fail-ures.

The Crispy Chicken Chickstar can slide, though, just this once. It’s pretty good! To start, this sandwich thing is shaped like the Crunchwrap Supreme, so it’s completely inviting comparisons. The first bite is a bit of a shock. “I know the Crunchwrap Supreme. And you, sir, are no Crunchwrap Supreme.”

Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Chipotle Chickstar 3

It lacks the snap of a tortilla shell wedged into each bite, but give it some time–the texture is still dynamic, thanks to the fried chicken fillets. The breading of the two chicken finger-sized pieces is made of tortilla chips and while it doesn’t taste different than most other fast food breading, it has a jagged, harder feel that gives it some substance. The chicken itself is also white and dense, like a U.S. congressman.

The softness of the outer tortilla contrasts nicely with the rough-breaded chicken and that interplay is definitely the star (Chickstar?) of the show. Having no bread, it means the protein is allowed to pop more and it also means there are those delightful bites that consist of folded over flour tortilla. So satisfying. Hold on to the tiny joys in life.

I tried the creamy chipotle version of the Chickstar. The sauce filled in the flavor profile and rounded out the taste a bit, but overall it felt a little anemic with the heat. The grated cheese and lettuce and tomato are even more of an afterthought than usual and remain borderline useless. However, the chicken did a decent job of picking up the slack, like Allen Iverson. Al-hen Thigh-verson? Mmm, Al-hen Thigh-verson.

Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Chipotle Chickstar

I know these sound like negative points for the Chickstar, but something about the entire package clicks together. It’s crunchy and soft in the right places and knows how to showcase the novelty of a tortilla chip-breaded chicken. Maybe it’s magic. Maybe it’s black magic. Taco Bell does fold these things into pentagrams. Or are they hexagrams. They added an extra side to the pentagram just like they added a fourth meal to the day! Must be voodoo.

The Chipotle Chickstar is a good item. Taco Bell’s new chicken fillet thing is good. But it cost me four bucks and I can get a couple chicken sandwiches for half that at most fast food restaurants. It even costs more than a Quesarito, and is almost as embarrassing to say.

What does “Chickstar” even mean? Is it a chicken hipster? A poultry constellation? Lady rock star? Debbie Harry? Chrissie Hynde? (Crispy Fried is her Chickstar name). Whatever. I’d pay another dollar just to not say the name out loud in the restaurant. And I’ll throw the cashier another twenty if he wants to go next door and say “One for Chappie” for me.

(Nutrition Facts – 760 calories, 43 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 1650 milligrams of sodium, 70 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 25 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Chipotle Chickstar
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Nice breading, great texture. Easy to eat, plenty of folded over tortilla.
Cons: Chipotle sauce is a little quiet, bland. Cheese is still Taco Bell cheese. Fairly expensive.

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade

Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade

Somewhere right now there is a Buzzfeed writer pondering potential candidates for a completely arbitrary list of the Top Ten Secret Menu Fast Dessert mashups. Between rethinking his or her seventh place entry of a Chili Cheese Tater Tot Milkshake from Sonic, and committing to the fourth place finisher of an Bacon Apple Pie McGriddle (note: someone make this happen), she realizes all the actual good combinations have already gone mainstream.

Case in point: Chick-fil-A’s new Frosted Lemonade.

Don’t let the “new” signs fool you. Veteran Chick-fil-A eaters like me have long known of its existence. Have I ever tried the formerly secret menu item before? Well no, but that’s because I do my most intrepid fast food eating on Sundays, and yea…

Anyways, the combination of soft serve Ice Dream and Chick-fil-A’s fresh-squeezed lemonade has always been something your friend’s cousin’s roommate’s sister made for herself when she worked there, but heretofore has never gotten official recognition. That’s a damn shame if you ask me, because lemon is seriously one of the most underrated dessert flavors. Lemonade, Lemon Poppy Seed, Lemon Meringue; heck, even Lemonheads. You get the point, and so apparently does Chick-fil-A.

I was a little worried at first that the Frosted Lemonade would be more drink than ice cream, but that turns out to not be the case. There’s still plenty of bright, citrusy, and sweet lemonade flavor to love, but unlike popular frozen lemon desserts like lemon Italian Ice or even those thick frozen lemonades you sometimes find at baseball stadiums, the Frosted Lemonade has a distinct dairy flavor and milkshake texture. The first few sips came with some effort, and while not quite as thick as a real ice cream milkshake (like the excellent ones from Sonic) it comes close to the thickness of Chick-fil-A’s milkshakes.

Similarly, any fears of a saccharine or cloying artificial sweetener aftertaste in my Diet version of the frozen lemonade were quickly dismissed (although not quickly enough to lead to a brain freeze), with my tastebuds registering only a clean and altogether lemony flavor. I’m not sure if this is more due to the three ingredients in the Diet version (water, lemon juice, Splenda) or the sweetness of the soft serve ice cream, but you would have been hard pressed to convince me it was a diet version of anything had I not ordered it.

Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade 2

The soft serve, which I’ve always found thicker and more authentic in dairy flavor than most fast food soft serve (oh, the irony) cuts whatever tartness the lemonade has, and rounds out the flavor to something altogether pleasant and mellow, with just enough richness to remind yourself that you’re drinking something on the dessert menu.

Some old fogies and lemonade traditionalists may scoff at this lack of zing and pulp in the lemon flavor, but the last thing I want stuck in my ice cream is pulp from a lemon. If I have one complaint it’s that the Frosted Lemonade could have been richer and creamier. With bottles of whipped cream in store, I’m sure your friend’s cousin’s roommate’s sister topped a Frosted Lemonade with the stuff. Who knows? Maybe the Frosted Whipped Cream Lemonade will be the next dessert addition to the Chick-fil-A menu. One can always hope.

(Nutrition Facts – 260 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 39 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein, and 25% calcium.)

Item: Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade
Purchased Price: $2.75
Size: 16 oz.
Purchased at: Chick-fil-A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Bright and sweet lemony flavor. Not sour at all, nor cloying nor artificial. Milkshake-like texture without the heaviness. Hints of dairy richness.
Cons: Pulp fans will be unimpressed at the lack of pulpage. A bit pricey for the size. Could use a bit more creaminess. Not having the balls to ask for whipped cream.

REVIEW: Haagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros Ice Cream

Haagen Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros Ice Cream Contianer

What first springs to mind when you see the word Brigadeiro? If you’re like me, which you probably are not, what springs forth is the picture of a Spanish military officer wearing a kickass uniform that probably has epaulettes.

What should spring to mind, however, is a chocolate truffle originating in Brazil that is apparently both famous and beloved and is often used for celebrations. At least, that’s what the Internet told me.

Listen, the point is that Häagen-Dazs has a new Artisan Collection. Each flavor says the ice cream company “collaborated closely with notable culinary artisans from around the country”, according to their press release. I chose Tres Leches Brigadeiros because tres leches is delicious and I guess I was still enamored with the idea of epaulettes.

By the way, in case you’re reading this review out loud to your kids as a bedtime story, Brigadeiro is pronounced bree-gah-day-ro. I was adding a few extra syllables in there before I learned that little fact. How silly I would look at the office if I hadn’t. Because Brazilian truffles are a trending water cooler topic, you know.

Häagen-Dazs decided to team up with My Sweet Brigadeiro for this artisanal flavor. They are based in New York but also sell their handmade Brigadeiros online. They specifically chose their Happy Couple for the ice cream.

With all this talk of truffles and cakes, you might expect Tres Leches Brigadeiros to contain chunks, but Häagen-Dazs actually deconstructed the Happy Couple for this creation, resulting in an ice cream that is completely smooth.

Haagen Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros Ice Cream1

My Sweet Brigadeiro’s website describes the Happy Couple as “white and chocolate Brigadeiro and it’s called Casadinho in Portuguese”. And, in case you’re not familiar with tres leches, it’s a cake that utilizes, you guessed it, three different types of milk: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream.

Now that we’re completely caught up on terminology, let’s get to the ice cream itself. As mentioned before, Tres Leches Brigadeiros (I’m just gonna call it TLB from now on) is a really smooth and creamy ice cream. It’s got chocolate ribbons running through it, which is meant to represent the Brigadeiro.

When I saw the chocolate on my spoon, I expected a burst of rich flavor when I put it in my mouth. Not so. The chocolate flavor is present, and actually tastes high-quality, but it’s very faint. As for the white chocolate, I couldn’t taste it at all.

Where TLB really shines is the tres leches part. With three different kinds of milk in the ingredients, it created a sweet ice cream with great depth that also managed not to overwhelm with richness.

Haagen Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros Ice Cream2

This results in a carton of ice cream that you can dig into and finish off during an episode of Game of Thrones and suddenly go “Oh…oops.” In fact, I barely had time to take pictures before my carton of TLB was finished.

All this results in a bit of a conflict when it comes to my opinion of Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros. On the one hand, I adore both the light but deep flavor and the smooth texture, with the added bonus of a hint of chocolate ribbon.

On the other hand, I feel like anyone who is familiar with Brigadeiros will be disappointed. While I’ve never had one personally, I have to believe that the Happy Couple Brazilian truffle offers up more flavor than what’s been showcased by Häagen-Dazs. It seems like this should just be called “Tres Leches with a Hint of Chocolate”.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup — 270 calories, 15 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 26 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein, 10% vitamin A, 10% calcium, and 2% iron.)

Item: Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection Tres Leches Brigadeiros Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $3.33
Size: 14 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Delicious tres leches flavor. Epaulettes. Not too rich and super smooth. Learning about other cultures’ foods. Hint of chocolate works with the tres leches.
Cons: Brigadeiro flavor seems highly muted. Embarrassing mispronunciations. Way too easy to eat all 52.5 grams of fat in a single sitting. Happy Couple sounds like Chinese food. Brazilians may feel their favorite truffle is misrepresented.