REVIEW: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are Andy Kao’s swan song.

Who’s Andy Kao?

He’s a man you should hug if you’re ever fortunate enough to meet him because he invented Panda Express’ wonderful Orange Chicken, which for some of you is the only reason why you go to Panda Express. After decades as Panda’s executive chef, Mr. Kao is retiring this year. But he’s leaving us with Chinese Spare Ribs, an entree that’s almost as good as his Orange Chicken.

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are St. Louis cut and slow-cooked for five hours. Then they’re wok-fired in Panda Express’ Chinese BBQ sauce that’s made up of sesame oil, mirin, garlic, red chili bean paste, and dried red chili flakes.

I ordered two servings and was given 14 pieces of various sizes. Most of them were somewhere between two to three inches long. Some pieces had a layer of fat, about half had most or all of their meat on them, and others had half of their meat missing. This got me thinking that these ribs were so tender that the meat easily falls off the bone.

Silly me. It’s fast food, not some Kansas City barbecue place.

The meat does cleanly come off the bone and its easy to chew, but it doesn’t melt off the bone or in my mouth. But the ribs I received weren’t straight from the wok, and I don’t know how long they were sitting in their serving trays, so they might be tenderer right from the wok.

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs 2

The Chinese BBQ sauce that coats the ribs was inspired by Char Siu, which is a traditional Chinese barbecued pork. It’s sweet with a mild chili pepper spiciness. It does taste like Char Siu, but spicier. The sauce isn’t messy and it helps give the ribs a wonderful caramelized exterior with a few crispy edges. I really like it, but I’m not surprised because Panda Express is great at sweet and slightly spicy sauces, like those on their Orange Chicken, Sweetfire Chicken Breast, and Beijing Beef.

There aren’t a lot of bone-in ribs in fast food history. No, I’m not counting the McDonald’s McRib and its rib-shaped pork patty. In 2010, Burger King offered their Fire-Grilled Ribs, but they were pricey and not good. Panda’s Chinese Spare Ribs are more expensive than most of their regular items. They have an additional $1.50 charge to them, just like Panda’s entrees that use premium ingredients, like shrimp or Angus beef.

Paying that additional charge is something I’m used to, but it feels different with these ribs. With the shrimp and Angus steak, everything is consumed. But with these ribs, most of the weight of each serving comes from the bones. Bones that I can’t eat. So it sort of feels like I’m not getting my money’s worth.

But, DAMN, they’re the best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. Granted, they are the only bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. But they’re tasty and tender enough that they make me want to give Andy Kao a hug.

(Nutrition Facts – 370 calories, 25 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 740 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 28 grams of protein.)

Item: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs
Purchased Price: $8.20 + $3.00 upcharge for two servings
Size: 1 plate with two entrees
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: The best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. They look really good. Nice sweet and spicy sauce. Meat cleanly comes off the bone. Orange chicken.
Cons: $1.50 additional charge for each serving. Some pieces were missing meat. Giggling whenever I type bone-in.

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REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate

With cookies from the Netherlands, chocolate from Belgium, and ownership by a California-based grocer that sports Hawaiian shirts, these cookies are reserved for only those with an open mind, an appreciation for all nationalities, and a predilection for spontaneous, risky, sometimes foolish, yet always admirable purchasing habits at the supermarket.

That is, they are reserved for you.

Yes, you. The few. The proud. The dashingly madcap buyers of consumer goods. And yet, despite your inherent courage, you will be tempted to stand back, to cling tight to the familiarity found in the Pepperidge Farm “Milano.” There is great safety in familiarity. Do not be ashamed. I, too, have stood where you stand.

But sometimes, gentle readers, we must branch out. Who among us is brave enough to defy the traditional, “Milano”? Who shall cross not one, but three (THREE) international borders to emerge on a new, diversified biscuit horizon? Who will dare to eat the cookies? After consumption, who will remain?

It’s a long journey. Let us begin now.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate A perfect duet

Actually, I lied. It’s a staggeringly short journey.

Because these are some good sandwich cookies. Straight up. Ripe for dunking in your afternoon coffee, the cookie itself has some solid structural integrity, more crunchy than crispy, just right for a solid dunk in coffee or tea if you’re so inclined.

It’s also sturdy enough that I could see it making good building material if you’re looking for a weekend construction project and are too lazy to go to Home Depot or are a contractor who specializes in building cookie log cabins for grandmas with questionable, Hansel-and-Gretel-inspired intent.*

*A note to contractors: please do not fall prey to innocent-looking, yet maliciously-inclined grandmas. Only contract to happy grandmas who wish to spoil their grandkids with abundant amounts of milk and cookies.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate insides

In terms of taste, the cookie wafers are faintly sweet and mild. Some may call it dubiously flavorless, but I can think of worse things. For example: 1) having a distressing population of moles infest your backyard, 2) dying from a spontaneous accumulation of nuclear plasma in the Hudson Bay, and 3) being buried in the break room beside the water cooler. These cookies? Nowhere near nuclear waste or water coolers, buried or unburied.

Thankfully for anyone snoozed out by the cookie’s mild taste, that biscuit is but a canvas to better showcase the smothering of Belgian chocolate smooshed between. This inner cocoa mass proves itself smooth, but still creamy, much like a halfway-hardened ganache. The chocolate flavor starts out rich, cane-sugared, and a little woodsy in that semisweet way as it trundles toward a slight coffee-like bitterness to balance out the sweet, bringing the cookie a good dose of ying, yang, and yada yada yada.

When combined, the cookie sandwich, what with its rich chocolate inside, crunchy cookie outside, and absence of hydrogenated oil (all the arteries shout, “Yay!”), not only edges this cookie up in the “Good Stuff” rankings, but, dare I say, sneaks it just above the Milanos. The lower ingredient count really does heighten the chocolate’s flavor. It may not be spectacular or even original in execution, but it’s simple, and, by gum, simple done downright well.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate lunch time!

I often imagine the cavernous hallways of the U.N. Headquarters echoing, “Can we all get along?” If these American-Netherland-Belgian-inspired cookies imply anything, I’d say definitely. The well-tempered, semisweet chocolate paired with the crunchy, mild cookie makes these simple and balanced. They hearken back to the Milano, yet, with their lower ingredient/preservative count, their taste is stronger and respectably unique. Plus, they are in the shape of a rectangle, so they really look like “sandwiches,” and “sandwiches” are good for lunch, right?

(Yes.)

And now that I have given you an excuse to have cookies for your mid-day meal, my work here is done.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate
Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: 7.5 oz package
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sweet, crunchy cookie. Smooth, semisweet chocolate. Taste is stronger than Milanos thanks to lower ingredient count. Cookies for lunch. Encourages positive international relations. Makes good building material.
Cons: Some may think the cookie portion boring/tasteless. Forces me to betray my beloved Milano (I still love you, Milanos!). Backyard rodent infestations. Death by nuclear plasma. Grandmas with malicious intent.

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REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream

You may think it’s harmless, generous even, to share this pint with your friends.

Don’t.

It seduces and, thus, accumulates a distressing number of amorous relationships. Give a bite here, share a bite there, and suddenly you have callers all over you, ringing you at 2 in the morning to explain their dreams and tugging your arm to elope with them in Vegas. Go through all this and then where will you be?

In Divorce Court. That’s where.

You’ll have to deal with all that paperwork, the taxes, Judge Mallory. Take it from me: avoid Divorce Court. Don’t share. Save the whole pint for your awesome self. Here’s why:

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream-behold, horizons of dough ahead

Creamy and smooth with a melt slower than Blue Bunny, but not as creamy as a small-batch Gelato Fiasco, the ice cream stands up to the Ben and Jerry standard I’ve come to know: mild, sweet, and inoffensive, if a bit bland. The caramel portion is milky and sweet with the tang of cooked sugar coming in at the end while the milk chocolate portion leans strongly toward the milk with a dry, cocoa-forward finish.

For those looking for dynamically punchy bases, the ice cream alone is not something you’d hoard in your underground nuclear bunker. But then the mix-ins arrive and explain everything: the base is but the palate cleanser. The humble binder of goods. The tabula rasa for a dairy-inspired art installation worthy of the MoMA.

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream gobs and swirls

And it all starts with the cookie dough chunks. There are gobs of them. Everywhere. Gobs of salty-sweet-and-gritty peanut butter dough. Gobs of familiar, sugar-forward chocolate chip dough. Big gobs. Little gobs. Standard gobs. But mainly big gobs. I eat the gobs. You should, too.

Then there’s the cookie swirl: a thick ribbon of gritty dark chocolate wafers so delightful, it may sully forth magical woodland creatures to Twitter about you. With its taste of Oreos and firm integration of bitter-laced sugar throughout the pint, this is the slightly liquefied embodiment of childhood nostalgia. Aside from a snowplow that harnesses the energy of three Hadron Colliders, I can’t think of anything I’d like more.

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream empty bowl of sadness

And after all that’s over, the bowl’s empty, and it was worth it to not share. It was creamy with a mild base that allowed for those excellent mix-ins to shine like so many sequins on a WWE Wrestler at a European discotheque. Sure, the base is mild and the whole thing is composed of already-existing mix-ins, but these elements are combined in a such a way that allows the Whole to be elevated to a new level: gritty, sugary, chewy, melty, salty, bitter, chocolate-y, and peanut buttery. All the elements of the food pyramid.

If you find the chocolate/caramel base too mild, maybe finish it off with some caramel or fudge. If you miss Fallon’s old iteration, perhaps top it off with potato chip chunkies. Or just scoop-scoop it into your bowl and never look back. I know I didn’t.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 310 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 26 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $5.19
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Food Emporium
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Creamy. Chocolate-y. Peanut-butter-y. Balance of bitter, salty, and sweet. Gobs of cookie dough. The pint is all yours. WWE wrestlers decked out for the disco. Hadron-Collider-powered snowplow.
Cons: Caramel and chocolate bases are mild. No potato chip clusters. Divorce Court. Deluded lovers you don’t love who explain their dreams to you at 2 in the morning.

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REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core Ice Cream

Coffee is a wonderful thing. It makes mornings tolerable, goes great with donuts, and gives kopi luwak farmers a reason to sift through civet poop.

It’s also incredibly addictive. Sure, coffee might provide you with a much-needed energy boost, but before you know it, you’ll be poppin’ caffeine pills and belting out songs by The Pointer Sisters.

Nevertheless, I’m so excited to see what coffee can do when partnered with chocolate and caramel in Ben & Jerry’s Boom Chocolatta. Part of the new line of Cookie Core ice creams, this flavor features a chocolate cookie butter core surrounded by mocha and caramel ice creams, sprinkled with chocolate cookie bits and fudge flakes.

When I first heard the name “Boom Chocolatta,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, it sounds a lot like an awful catchphrase I would have shamelessly overused in high school. I can just imagine signing everyone’s yearbooks with it. “Yo Derrick. Give ‘em hell at DeVry University. BOOM CHOCOLATTA.”

Ben & Jerry's Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core Ice Cream 2

Peeling back the lid reveals the two ice cream flavors conjoined by a precious cookie core. The mocha half possesses a bold coffee flavor with a more subtle hint of chocolate. In comparison, the caramel ice cream tastes tame. I had to really focus to detect its highly understated caramel flavor. When paired with the mocha, the caramel’s more reserved flavor brings balance to each spoonful.

The fudge flakes and chocolate cookie pieces mixed throughout add an occasional smidgen of chocolate flavor, but are negligible alongside the real star of the show: the chocolate cookie core.

Ben & Jerry's Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core Ice Cream 3

Lightly crunchy and deeply rich, the core offers a chocolate sweetness akin to finely crushed Oreo cookies, but with a darker chocolate flavor. In fact, when the core is eaten alone, it seems too rich, but this flaw fades beside the mocha and caramel ice creams. Texturally, the cookie core is far more solid than a jarred cookie butter and has a grainy consistency. It’s not as spreadable as a cookie butter, but it’s scoopable — even straight from the freezer. And trust me, you’ll be scooping this cookie butter harder than Scoop Doggy Dogg himself. He’s a rapper, right?

As I dug deeper and deeper into the carton, I was dismayed to discover the pint contained less cookie core than I had hoped. And why was it sitting at an awkward angle, offset from the center of the carton? My cookie core was nowhere near as glorious as the illustrations had implied. I’m sure Ben and Jerry could have been a little more generous with their cookie butter.

Ben & Jerry's Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core Ice Cream 4

Still, Boom Chocolatta is a favorable addition to Ben & Jerry’s line of Core ice creams. Sometimes, an entire pint of coffee ice cream is just too much coffee flavor, and that’s exactly why Boom Chocolatta excels: the caramel ice cream and cookie core add enough variety to keep things interesting down to the last spoonful, and no single bite feels repetitive. I just wish Ben & Jerry’s hadn’t been so stingy with the cookie core. It was a bit of a letdown — just like when I found out Sir Mix-a-Lot was never actually knighted.

I dunno, I thought Queen Elizabeth just really liked his song about butts. Gimme a break, okay?

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Ben & Jerry’s Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Strongly flavored mocha ice cream. Rich cookie core complements both ice cream flavors. Saved By The Bell references.
Cons: Weakly flavored caramel ice cream. Not enough core. The fact that I mentioned Sir Mix-a-Lot in this review.

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REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies

This is everything the trainers, cardiologists, and armchair psychologists warned me about. Why? Well…

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies Tower

(You still here?)

To the three of you who you haven’t sprinted for your keys, I’ll do my best use some adjectives that describe the above cookie sandwiches, photographed just moments before they were ingested. If you head for your local Trader Joe’s via car/bus/ferry/personal helicopter before you make it to the end, I won’t blame you.

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies Topless

Despite the sudden population boom in biscuit-based spreads, the cookie butter Trader Joe’s implements here holds tight to tradition, using the familiar cinnamon caramel flavors found in Speculoos cookies. The goo is a little thicker than peanut butter, but not quite as stiff as an Oreo creme. The spread separates from the cookie swiftly when twisting and remains as tasty as I remember in that special caramelized-frosting way. But the real kicker? Comes with the shortbread.

Salty, sugary, and sandy as a renegade drifter, the buttery shortbread breaks with a crisp bite before it crumbles and dissolves under its own weight. Darwin surely would’ve been fascinated to hear my post-first-bite monologue of, “Yum. Cookie. More. Yum,” as I’m fairly certain it brings into question humanity’s ability to linguistically evolve…or perhaps this is just me? Am I de-evolving?? And what will I do when I become a monkey?? If these cookies have anything to do with it, I’ll be eating shortbread.

Despite the Super Wonderful that is this cookie, I’m a little conflicted. This is the third cookie butter product I’ve reviewed in the past 12 months. Trader Joe… are you using cookie butter as a crutch? Maybe even surfing on a… (gulp)…trend??

Now, no lies: it’s a very, very tasty crutch, but, as my ski instructor said to me back when I was a poorly coordinated 10-year-old, one never learns if one always takes the Bunny Slope. Sometimes, you gotta strap on your skis and rocket down the double-black diamond at 50 miles per hour without a helmet.* You may crash, lose a glove, and bonk into a California pine, but you’ll learn from the wipeout.

*This is a lie. You should always wear a helmet, silly.

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies Mug

But who am I kidding? These are delicious. I’m knocking them a little for being trendy, for not having a re-sealable bag, and for making my arteries sad with the box’s 216% of my saturated fat, but, let’s face it: neither health nor coolness are what you keep in mind when eating these. What you keep in mind is joy. Pure, unobstructed joy. And Trader Joe? You’ve succeeded in that.

So, dear reader. will you twist? Nibble from the outside in? Dip in milk or not? One at a time or gulf down a pile of five? There are a lot of ways people will tell you to eat these, all stress-inducing and rife with contradictions. I say ignore them and enjoy your cookie.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 180 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 10 oz. box
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Classic cookie butter. Crumbly. Buttery. Sandy. A little crispy. Renegade drifters.
Cons: Dangerously trendy. Not in a re-sealable bag. 214% Saturated Fat in one box. Ski accidents. Knocking into a California pine. Cardiologists. Turning into a monkey via de-evolution.

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