REVIEW: Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Believe it or not, the habanero was once the world’s hottest chili pepper. But thanks to botany and hot, steamy plant-on-plant action, which produced spicier peppers, the habanero has been relegated to a lower heat status and has also dropped in rank on the Cool Chili Pepper Name List.

It’s been overtaken by the Ghost Pepper, Carolina Reaper, Infinity Chili, Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper, Super Duper Red Hot Chili Peppers, Naga Viper, and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Oh, one of those isn’t a real chili pepper name, but the rest are real. Guess which one.

And those hotter peppers are not slightly ahead on the Scoville scale, a measurement of chili pepper heat, they’re like Golden State Warriors-ahead of the once mighty pepper. While the habanero can muster 100,000-350,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), many of the peppers I’ve listed above go beyond (raise pinky to mouth) one million SHU.

While the habanero no longer has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s found a place on many crunchy snacks. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. And now these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero snacks.

Well, actually, it should’ve gone. Cheetos Crunchy. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. The order should’ve been different because these cheesy, spicy snacks are a rerelease, originally on shelves in 2010. But they’re back again to be the “Official Snack of the Mexican National Team,” who probably didn’t have a say in the matter.

Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero 2

The orange and red crunchy corn puffs look like what I imagine ends up on Lucifer’s finger after digging his nose. Yes, I’m saying they look like devil’s boogers. But what tasty buggers they are.

The level of heat these bring is below the nerve stinging spiciness of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. With these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero I can munch my way though many of them without hesitation, but I can tolerate only so much with any Flamin’ Hot snack. But I’m not giving the go ahead sign for those who don’t like the spicy.

Since the habanero seasoning isn’t tear-inducing for me, I can taste the cheesy, peppery, and smoky flavoring on each crunchy corn puff. They’re also a little tomato-y and oniony. But a kick of lime is what makes this snack’s flavor stand out. It gives these Cheetos Crunchy a taste that’s more complex than just cheesy and spicy. And I have to say I prefer the flavor of these over Flamin’ Hot.

Sadly, this flavor will go back into the Cheetos flavor vault once the Olympics are done and, maybe, pop up again years from now to promote something else. But I don’t want that to be the case. I want it to be a permanent flavor.

But just like the habanero pepper had to accept it wouldn’t always be the hottest pepper in the world, I have to accept I won’t be eating Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero for a while.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 160 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: Purchased on eBay for more than the price on the packaging
Size: 8.5 oz bag
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Really spicy, but not REALLY spicy. Complex flavor that’s cheesy, spicy, smoky, and a little limey. Better than Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot.
Cons: Difficult to find. Will eventually go back into the Cheetos flavor vault. If you do not like spicy foods, do not eat this.

REVIEW: Dairy Queen M&M’s Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard

At first glance, it’s really easy to read Peanut Butter Monster Cookie as Peanut Butter Cookie Monster. That’s what I did, and the first thought that formed inside my Thunderdome of a mind was of Cookie Monster’s much less celebrated, but much more wholesome brother who Sesame Street forgets to talk about.

He’s a behind-the-scenes hero, taking care of Cookie Monster’s kids, consoling his distraught wife, just being the glue when his brother doesn’t come home at night because he’s fallen off the cookie wagon. Is he in jail? On the cookie version of Skid Row, snorting copious amounts of cookie crumbs? Nobody knows, but Peanut Butter Cookie Monster is there to pick up the pieces. What a stand up, made-up guy.

The Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard more than lives up to the imaginary character it isn’t named after. The word “monster” is appropriately used too since this Blizzard IS a monster…of peanut butter flavor.

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard 3

There are two peanut butter factors at play with P.B. cookie chunks and peanut butter being blended throughout the Blizzard. The sweet, nutty condiment is in every bite. It takes over the vanilla ice cream like some kind of edible symbiotic life form. You can try really hard to gather up the M&M’s and choco chunks but you’re still going to get a strong nutty presence.

I like how they put both the cookies and smooth peanut butter topping inside. It’s kind of like spreading some of the popular condiment on a P.B. cookie. You get the authentic peanut butter taste, and the more processed taste from the cookies, and the result is a heavenly combo, never an overkill.

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard 2

The M&M’s accent the P.B. The candy shells really jump out. Because of their surrounding, they basically turn into Peanut Butter M&M’s. But if the Blizzard scientists had tried to put actual Peanut Butter M&M’s inside, I think that would’ve been an overload. It would most likely result in an actual peanut butter monster being born, only it wouldn’t be friendly like P.B. Cookie Monster. Instead, it would be more like a boss from the Dark Souls game series.

I went to the drive-thru to get mine, and I have to say I really hate how they make it a point of handing you the Blizzard upside down now. The window guy looked so cocky when he did it, like he wanted to rub it in my face I wasn’t going to get a free Blizzard for giving it to me right side up.

Not that I would call them out on that anyways, but man, I wish the next Blizzard he handed out fell right out of the cup. Then he could go make himself a nice humble pie Blizzard.

(Nutrition Facts – small – 730 calories, 280 calories from fat, 31 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 98 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 79 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.79
Size: Small
Purchased at: Dairy Queen
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Two different peanut butter tastes. Chocolate and M&Ms accent peanut butter nicely. Peanut Butter Cookie Monster holding his brother’s home together.
Cons: Cocky Blizzard passer-outers.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Blueberry Pie Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition Blueberry Pie Oreo Cookies

I imagine there are some of you out there who are absolutely sick of all these limited edition Oreo flavors. You’ve probably left a comment on someone’s Facebook post about a new Oreo variety that was somewhere along the lines of “Enough with the Oreo flavors” or “Oreo needs to stop” or “OreOh no, not moreo Oreos.”

But think of the food scientists who develop these flavors. Oreo is the canvas on which they can use natural and artificial flavors to unleash their creativity. Would you take away a paintbrush from Van Gogh? Would you cut the strings in Beethoven’s piano? Would you smash Hemingway’s typewriter with a sledgehammer? Would you take Chicago away from Dick Wolf?

Without the Oreo cookie, some food scientists might have less fun jobs to do, like coming up with new ways for Nature Valley to use granola or trying to shoehorn Kashi’s seven whole grains into something edible.

The latest flavor that’ll make Oreo haters roll their eyes is Limited Edition Blueberry Pie.

The cookie combines the graham-flavored wafer that comes with S’mores, Strawberry Shortcake, and Key Lime Pie Oreo cookies with a Violet Beauregard-colored blueberry creme.

These aren’t the first blueberry Oreo cookies to enter my mouth. I’ve had blueberry ice cream flavored Oreo cookies from Asia that used chocolate wafers. While they were good, they didn’t make me instantly call Nabisco’s Customer Service line and demand the company bring blueberry Oreo cookies to the U.S. But these Blueberry Pie Oreo Cookies make me want to call the Nabisco Customer Service line and demand they never leave shelves or send me a signed letter from the current Mondelez CEO promising they’ll be back next year.

Limited Edition Blueberry Pie Oreo Cookies 2

While I’ve never had a blueberry pie with a graham cracker crust, I’ve mostly had the lattice top ones depicted on the front of the packaging, this Oreo makes me pie-curious. Now I must try a blueberry pie with a graham cracker crust, because I think these are the best fruit-flavored Oreo cookies so far.

The slightly tart blueberry flavor reminds me of what I’d get from a blueberry pie, muffin, scone, or (insert baked good here). Good job, food scientists! The graham-flavored wafers do a great job of complementing the creme. They go together like Cagney & Lacey, Norm & Cliff, and Ren & Stimpy. The wafers don’t heavily dampen the creme’s flavor and there’s the same level of graham flavor as there would be a crust flavor in an actual blueberry pie. It’s a great combination and one that’s surprising because of my previous blueberry Oreo experience.

But there are two minor issues. Even though, these are wonderful cookies, the image of the lattice top pie on the packaging doesn’t represent what the cookies taste like. Also, these are currently available only at Target for a limited time. But again, minor issues.

Overall, I think these Limited Edition Blueberry Pie Oreo Cookies are good enough to make new Oreo flavor haters still hate new Oreo flavors. Yes, haters are going to still hate no matter what. But if you’re a fan of blueberry baked goods, I think you’ll love these.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 15 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.7 oz.
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Blueberry flavor reminds me of baked goods. My favorite fruit-flavored Oreo cookie. Letting food scientists be creative. Creme and wafers are a great combination. Wafer doesn’t mute the creme’s flavor much.
Cons: Limited edition Oreo haters are gonna to hate these. Blueberry haters are gonna hate these. Limited edition. Available only at Target.

REVIEW: Cold Stone Creamery Blueberry Donut Shake

Cold Stone Creamery Blueberry Donut Shake

I’ve been living under the assumption there are approximately four Dairy Queens, two Carvels, two Baskin-Robbins, and a Häagen-Dazs between my house and the closest Cold Stone Creamery, so I never saw it necessary to trek out to one.

Well guess what, folks? You know that Blimpie a town over from me? C’mon, you know the one. No, that’s a Subway. Right. That place! Apparently, that’s a half-Blimpie, half-Cold Stone Creamery!

All this time I could’ve had my ice cream slapped and folded at a fancy “Creamery” by someone I presume is called a “Creamer.” Instead, I’ve just been opting for boring scoops elsewhere. Ridiculous.

With this newfound knowledge I immediately perused Cold Stone’s menu to see if anything struck my fancy. Something did. In fact, I can’t recall the last time my fancy was struck as hard as it was when I noticed they now serve a Blueberry Donut Shake.

A blueberry donut shake?! It’s like they made that specifically for me. I love ice cream shakes, and my go-to donut is the blueberry cake variety.

I set a course for Blimp Stone Creamery. Cold Stone Blimpery?

The “Creamer” mixed two scoops of sweet cream ice cream, a few blueberries, about 1/3 of a blueberry cake donut, and a little milk into a perfectly blended lavender shake.

Cold Stone Creamery Blueberry Donut Shake 2

Not only did the shake feature those quality ingredients, he topped it off with a dollop of whipped cream, and perhaps the greatest garnish of all time – a frozen blueberry cake donut.

*I pause this review to decree that from this point forward, all desserts must be garnished with a donut We now return to your regularly scheduled review.*

Speaking of donuts, the shake instantly reminded me of the blueberry cake donut from Dunkin’. If you’re not familiar, it’s not too far off from a blueberry muffin.

Is “Blueberry Muffin a la Mode” a thing? Try to picture that, in shake form.

The ingredients worked perfectly together. The ice cream (which honestly tasted just like vanilla) gave it a sweet base, while the donut gave it a perfect hint of cake flavor. The blueberries provided an acidic fruit kick that also emanated a pleasant blueberry scent.

It was the smoothest ice cream shake I’ve had in a while. There were no floating bits of donut or blueberry clogging the straw. I finished it off without even a hint of brain freeze, so that’s worth a point in itself.

I saved the frozen donut for last. It was still pretty firm when the shake was gone, but tasted good enough. I don’t think it would have been too far off from Dunkin’s if it were fresh from the fryer.

As great as this shake was, I had a few minor gripes.

The whipped cream was pretty bad. It reminded of Cool Whip, which I’ve always found disgusting. Whipped cream in a Starbucks drink tends to liquefy towards the bottom. In this shake it remained a firm clump the entire time. Couple that with the still frozen donut, and it ended with a bit of a whimper.

The $6.75 price tag was outrageous, but this replaced my lunch, so I guess that’s a competitive price in that sense. It’s all about perspective. I couldn’t find the nutritional “value” of the shake on Cold Stone’s website. It’s probably best not to know. But hey, I know the blueberries provide some valuable antioxidants. The milk undoubtedly had some protein too. Perspective!

I really hope Cold Stone drops more donut-based shakes, especially now that I know there’s one nearby.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on Cold Stone Creamery website.)

Purchased Price: $6.75
Size: Love It (Medium)
Purchased at: Cold Stone Creamery
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Delicious blend of blueberries, donuts, and ice cream. A blueberry cake donut garnish. No brain freeze. Finding out there was a Cold Stone nearby.
Cons: Frozen donut. Lardy whipped cream. Crazy price. Unknown nutritional facts. Cool Whip. “Creamers.”

REVIEW: Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich

Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich

Bacon, like alliteration, needs to be applied carefully.

Try to get avant garde and add it to stuff, like canned vodka drinks, and you might just inspire someone to go vegan. Likewise, start stringing together sounds and letters with too much frequency and you’ll leave somebody more tongue-tied than a 12-year-old beholding his first pair of boobies.

But apply them strategically and they’ll make every sandwich or sentence better.

That’s the case with the Arby’s new Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich, or, as I told the cashier, “the brisket one.”

Arby’s actually debuted its brown sugar bacon last year to mixed reviews. This year they’ve brought it back and given it the benefit of new bun, premium meats, and an exotic-sounding Kentucky bourbon sauce.

Now, when I hear the term “Kentucky bourbon sauce,” I want to think of some grizzled backwoods old man chewing on leftover mutton barbecue and checking the taps of a warehouse filled with cave-aged barrels. The reality is a lot less romantic but still pretty tasty. The whole-grain Dijon mustard with sweet and complex notes doesn’t really have a distinctive bourbon taste so much as it just makes you recall the “beer mustard” you stole from your neighbor’s Oktoberfest party.

Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich 2

You’ll forgive the lack of distinctive bourbon flavor as soon as you bite into the sandwich. Four or five different taste and texture sensations converge with a single chomp, producing one of the most satisfying sandwich bites I’ve ever had from any fast food restaurant. There’s the smoky, moist brisket; milky and creamy smoked cheddar cheese; sweet and crunchy bacon; salty and crisp onion straws; and that tangy, complex mustard that makes me want to say something hokey like “please pass the Grey Poupon, ya’ll.”

Even the bun is top-notch. Squishy yet firm, with a sort of pretzel bun malt sweetness aftertaste, it’s the perfect vehicle to suck up the viscous sauce and meaty juices from the biscuit. When Wendy’s and McDonald’s upgraded to “artisan” buns, this is what they should have adopted.

What comes together is a complete and balanced sandwich in which neither sweet nor salty wins out, and where those looking to get an authentic smoked meat smorgasbord will find plenty of indulgence in strong notes of hickory and oak.

Look, I’ll admit it: Arby’s brown sugar bacon is Candyland sweet on its own and the Kentucky bourbon sauce is more whole grain Dijon beer mustard than anything else, but neither detail seems to obscure the fact that the Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich is really damn good (also a bit tough to say, but that’s beside the point.) While the $5.99 price may scare some customers away, Arby’s has proved that the sum of its sandwich components are well worth it, making the new Bacon Brown Sugar Bourbon Sandwiches some of the best I’ve ever had from the chain.

(Nutrition Facts – 710 calories, 360 calories from fat, 40 grams of fat, 15 grams of sat fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 1610 milligrams of sodium, 48 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 43 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Hearty and meaty sandwich with layers of smoky and beefy flavor. Brisket good enough to eat even in Texas*. Bourbon sauce is the best tasting mustard you’ve ever had. Great melted and creamy texture from the smoked cheddar cheese. Hands down the best bun in premium fast food sandwiches.
Cons: Glazed texture of bacon lacks chewy fatty goodness. “Bourbon” taste may not be as authentic or prominent as some would like. Frankly, one of the worst tongue twisters in fast food history.

*I live here. I can say this.

REVIEW: Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M's

Dear Hostess,

Let me start by saying that I’ve always been loyal.

I’ve been eating your cakes since I first misinterpreted the song’s lyrics as “Twinkie Twinkie Little Star.” When a friend bet me $2 that I couldn’t eat an entire Ho Ho in one bite, you better believe I sucked it down like a crème-stuffed Kobayashi. Your treats even helped me escape grade school shame, as I bragged to my friends how I had a girlfriend named Suzy Q.

“You wouldn’t know her. She goes to another school!”

That’s why I’m sorry. I’m sorry that even after I resisted the smutty Nutty Bars and curvaceous Swiss Rolls of Little Debbie, that foul temptress broke my willpower with her decadent Cosmic Brownies.

I’m a sucker for sticky, artificial brownies, and your discontinued Brownie Bites left a hole in my life that only Debbie’s fudgy bricks could fill.

But it’s okay, because now you have these new brownies made with M&M’s. I understand there’s a new man in your life, but I’m going to prove that I can treat you better than that wisecracking red M&M ever could. I’m gonna eat this entire box of brownies, just like the good old days when we’d munch through pouches of Mini Muffins without a care or “suggested serving size” in the world.

Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M's 2

Your candy-studded brownies are shorter, but girthier than the connected LEGO bricks of Cosmic Brownies. This is good: I like a minimalistic gal. And upon first bite, I immediately remembered why I love you, Hostess.

All the grandmas of the world can heave a collective sigh of relief, because these are no replacement for homemade brownies—there’s no eggy denseness, dark cocoa complexity, or touch of vanilla. But what there is is fudge, and lots of it: way more than in any Cosmic Brownie.

Between the frosting and the hyper-crumbly base, your brownies have enough rich fudge flavor to make Fudgy the Whale fudge his pants. It’s super sweet, but also pleasantly buttery. You always did know how to butter me up, Hostess.

Your M&M’s brownies beat Debbie’s in texture, too. While hers may have a compelling chewiness, yours are more satisfyingly soft and spongy. Combined with the smooth frosting, the whole brownie feels and tastes like a cream-less Oreo Cakester with Hostess Cupcake icing.

And since I’d give up my right arm, my right to bear arms, and my beloved childhood Teddy Bear to bring Oreo Cakesters back from the snack graveyard, this comparison is a high compliment.

Hostess Brownies made with Milk Chocolate M&M's 3

Oh, and the M&M’s? They’re way better than any lame Cosmic Chips, because they’re M&M’s Minis. With a fun, crackling texture contrast and a superior shell-to-chocolate ratio that would make a normal M&M consider liposuction, the Minis provide bombshell bursts of milky sweetness in an otherwise fudge-dominated world.

There aren’t many M&M’s on top, but there are more buried down in your brownies’ deepest recesses. It’s like the old phrase says: “you can’t judge a book by its miniaturized milk chocolate morsel bedazzled cover.”

Sure, your brownies aren’t perfect: they’re too small for a satisfying snack, they make a hell of a crumb-spewing mess, and they have an uncomfortable oily aftertaste. But I’m willing to look past that if you can forgive my infidelity. I promise, my sordid affair with Deborah is over, and you and I still have many happy fudgy days ahead.

I don’t need Cosmic Brownies to have out of this world taste, Hostess. Because when it comes to highly processed snack cakes, you are my universe.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 brownie – 170 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 64 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 9.1. oz box/6 brownies
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: A fudgy ménage à trois between candy, Cupcake, and Cakester. Deeply buried Mini M&M’s landmines. Squares so spongy that Nickelodeon might sue. Building my inevitable tomb out of fudgy bricks.
Cons: Kicking up brownie crumb dust clouds. Won’t out-Grandma your Grandma. Snack cake infidelity. Crying over old Polaroids of Oreo Cakesters.