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.

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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.

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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.

REVIEW: Pirate Brands Bountiful Banana & Potato Crisps

Pirate Brands Bountiful Banana & Potato Crisps

Ahoy, me maties. What’s shakin?

I just tried my first Pirate Brands product ever.

After passing on “Pirate’s Booty” for years, I finally decided to indulge in their Bountiful Banana and “Potatarr” Crisps.

I’ve never found pirates all that interesting. I’ve grown tired of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’ve always held an admittedly unfair loathing of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Go Mets!) Whenever I hear the word, I picture Jerry Seinfeld in a puffy shirt whimpering, “But I don’t wanna be a pirate!”

All of those might’ve subconsciously played a role into why I’ve never purchased Pirate Brands snacks. Or maybe my brain just didn’t like the idea of eating “Booty”?

But there is one sure-fire way to get my money, no ifs, ands, or booties, and that’s to release a snack using the one ingredient that has a gravitational pull on me – banana.

I’ll try any snack you wanna throw at me if banana is a featured ingredient. I would’ve walked the plank or fought the fabled Kraken to try a bag of banana and potato crisps. Those are things pirates do, right?

Yarrrr, these crisps be delicious. Ah geez, they got me talking like em now.

The aroma coming out of the bag after I opened it was heavenly. It smelled exactly like dried banana chips.

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The crisps look and crunch exactly like Lay’s Baked. I know a lot of people don’t love those, but I’m a weirdo who actually prefers baked crisps over fried chips. I can demolish a bag with no problem, and like Lay’s Baked, these went down very easy.

Each potato crisp has a powdery coating that starts with sweet banana flavor, but evolves into a subtle salty banana. Shiver me timbers! (I’ll stop now.) I immediately started tipping the bag back and drinking multiple crisps at a time.

When I ate it that way (in the comfort of my own home, thank you), I realized there was a small flavor inconsistency. Some of the crisps had an overbearing sweetness that made them taste synthetic.

Luckily, that momentary disappointment soon faded. The sweetness didn’t last long enough for it to become a real problem. As I chewed, the potato took over and these basically became standard baked crisps. The starchiness of the potato crisp neutralized the sweetness, so I got banana on the nose, and potato on the finish. Not only that, a few minutes after putting the bag down, I was left with a very pleasant banana aftertaste.

So, to recap, the taste profile actually goes from banana to potato and then back to banana! Magic.

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You’re probably wondering about the dried banana chips shown on the bag. Whoever the tallyman is, he or she needs to be fired, because I counted less than five. So they weren’t exactly “bountiful” as promised.

I wanted to cry about false advertising, but in the end I really didn’t care. The banana flavor on the crisp was the same as the dried banana chip. I tasted no difference at all when I mixed the two.

I ended up loving these. And I think I like pirates now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 120 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 30 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4 oz bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: I just love bananas. Good crunch. Nice baked flavor. Delicious mix of salty and sweet. A reasonably healthy snack. “The Puffy Shirt” episode of Seinfeld. Ate the entire bag in one sitting.
Cons: The word “booty.” Some crisps briefly tasted synthetic. Lack of dried banana chips. Who is the tallyman? Ate the entire bag in one sitting.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal

Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal

If you were to put a gun to my head and demand I rank every single Cheerios flavor in history, my first thought would be, why are you willing to kill me over something as trivial as one man’s opinion on a toasted oat cereal?

And then I’d proceed to rattle off the definitive guide to 22 flavors.

Apple Cinnamon Cheerios would be up there. So would Peanut Butter Multigrain Cheerios. And, being the purist that I am, I wouldn’t forget the golden bee of Honey Nut Cheerios.

But at the very top? The discontinued Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios.

Taken off shelves sometime in the past three years, but long adored by adults and kids alike, the sweet strawberry notes of the O’s still haunt me. Yeah, I could get Fruity Cheerios and just eat the red ones, but it’s not the same. If Cheerios can give spelt, quinoa, and other ancient grains their own box, then America’s favorite berry should have its own flavor.

Thankfully, General Mills has finally taken note, albeit in a limited edition role with the new Strawberry Cheerios.

Just writing “limited edition” makes me want to sift through pages of Google search results for a viable answer to “how to freeze time” so I can endlessly replay the moment when my milky spoonful of red-freckled oat rings embraced my taste buds like a cold strawberry shake on a warm spring day.

Yes, Strawberry Cheerios are that good.

Those who fondly recall Berry Burst Cheerios will be filled with poetic memories of the subtly sweet strawberry flavor, oatey crunch, and sophisticated tart aftertaste of the bygone classic. Eaten dry, the new Strawberry Cheerios have an ideal combination of strawberry flavor (emphasis on the straw, as opposed to just vague berry; although, now that I think about it, don’t think about eating straw. That’s freaking disgusting) and wholesome Cheerios taste.

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There’s a wonderfully sturdy crunch in each oat ring — more crunch than the standard Cheerio — but unlike past Cheerios flavors, Strawberry Cheerios has no identifiable defect. Gone are styrofoamy freeze-dried fruit; banished are fake palm kernel oil yogurt coatings; and exiled are the annoying original Cheerios that taste like insipid islands of plainness amidst an ocean of strawberry islands.

They also get better in milk.

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The strong strawberry tartness in the aftertaste dissipates, replaced by mellow yet sweet flavor that, when enjoyed in the presence of whole milk, takes on notes of milkshake or ice cream. The gluten-free oat rings stay crunchy even through a long soak, slowly giving away their sweetness to a light red bowl of pure strawberry milk.

If you’re going to put a gun to my head and demand I give you one slight suggestion of improvement for the new Strawberry Cheerios, I’d admit they could be a little sweeter, since I recently figured out how awesome macerated strawberries taste. But it’s hard to nitpick, especially with how accurate Cheerios nailed the strawberry flavor. Are Strawberry Cheerios the best of the now 23 Cheerios varieties that have been created? It’s tough to say, but if you’re going to demand an answer from me, I’d say they’re up there, and are probably the purest, tastiest strawberry cereal on the market.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 120 mg of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.38
Size: 21 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Delicious and bright strawberry flavor combined with solid oat crunch. Tart, sophisticated aftertaste. Serious strawberry milkshake vibes when eaten in milk. No crappy freeze-dried strawberries. Best strawberry cereal on the market.
Cons: Limited freaking edition with no scientifically verifiable way to stop time. Could be a tad bit sweeter. Random people putting guns to your head and asking you to rank cereals.

REVIEW: Jack in the Box Panko Onion Rings

Jack in the Box Panko Onion Rings

Even though I’ve eaten pounds of Jack in the Box Curly Fries and paid dollars upon dollars in upgrades to swap regular fries with them in my combo meals, I’m replacing them with Jack in the Box’s new Panko Onion Rings as my favorite Jack in the Box side.

To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations, but I blame the promotional photos that don’t do them justice. When I first saw a photo of them, I thought they were going to be formed onion mush inside breading, much like the uniform-sized onion rings from a fast food chain that begins with “B” and ends with “urger King.”

But in real life these look like they’re from a sit-down chain restaurant, like Chili’s or Applebees. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s a compliment. They come in different sizes and have actual rings of onion in them.

Oh, and look at that golden brown panko. From what you’ve probably learned via the Food Network, panko tends to be lighter and crispier than other breadcrumbs and that’s definitely the case here. The coating wonderfully crispy (of course your results may vary). With every chew it’s as if a staticky television is going off in my head. They’re also not at all greasy and the coating doesn’t easily flake off.

And that crispy coating is wrapped around rings of onion that have a slightly sweet flavor. There were times when couldn’t bite through the onion causing me to pull some of it out of the panko coating and I do wish the onion was a bit more oniony, but, my goodness, writing this review makes me want to buy more of them. I’ll be right back.

(20 minutes later)

Still love them.

I imagine Jack in the Box’s Panko Onion Rings would go great with a Buttery Jack, Jack’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich, Jumbo Jack, or anything else on the menu with the name “Jack” attached to it. They would also go great with any dipping sauce Jack in the Box offers, if you’re willing to pay for a container because, sadly, they don’t come with a dipping sauce. Ketchup is fine, but I got container of ranch sauce and they made these onion rings even better.

(Nutrition Facts – 443 calories, 215 calories from fat, 24 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 623 milligrams of sodium, 52 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Jack in the Box
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Wonderful crispy exterior. Uses actual rings of onion. Better than Jack’s Curly Fries. They look like they’re from Chili’s or Applebees (that’s still a compliment). Not greasy.
Cons: It doesn’t need a dipping sauce, but it would’ve been nice to have to option. Perhaps the onion could’ve been more oniony. Sometimes I couldn’t bite cleanly through the onion.

REVIEW: Post Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles Cereal

Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles Cereal

Before I start, I just wanna give Post props for keeping the Flintstones alive in the zeitgeist.

Before I continue, I just want to look the word “zeitgeist” up in the dictionary as I have no idea if I’m using it properly.

Okay, I’m still not sure. Fun word to say though. Zeit-geist.

Do kids these days even know who Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are? I suspect they do thanks to the Pebbles line of cereals, Push Pops, and, of course, Flintstones vitamins. If we’re to believe the marketing they are taken daily by ten million kids strong, and groooowing. That being said, they’ve been playing the same commercials since the 70s. My guess is they’re at much less these days, and sloooowing.

Fruity Pebbles are one of my favorite cereals of all time, and I don’t believe they get their proper respect.

Far be it from me to say a cereal that has been on shelves for 45 years is underrated, but they’re underrated. Just look at them, they exist to brighten your morning. I know they aren’t much different than Froot Loops or Trix, but I’ve always found their size and shape more appealing, and their colors just seem to POP more.

Fruity Pebbles are the closest thing to candy you can eat for breakfast. That classic sugary, fruity mixture is something I’ve been enjoying for 20+ years. Now you’re telling me Post threw some Lucky Charms-esque marshmallows into the equation? Bring it.

Have you ever had a Fruity Pebbles treat? If so, to borrow a pretentious term I learned from Top Chef, this cereal is basically a “deconstructed Fruity Pebbles treat” and it’s fantastic.

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The marshmallows are basically the same flavor and texture as the clovers, stars, and pints of Guinness(?) you know and love from Lucky Charms. When eaten dry, they have a nice crunch. When soaked in milk, they develop a delicious slime. When mixed with Fruity Pebbles, they form a match made in heaven.

I can wax nostalgic about the taste of Fruity Pebbles all day, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the smell. Fruity Pebbles are the best smelling cereal on Earth. I’m not sure I even know how to describe it. It’s like opening a box of Nerds – a bit fruity, definitely sugary, and you just know you’re in for a good time.

Just to squash my curiosity I tried each individual cereal color to see if they tasted different. They didn’t. I’m not sure if they claim flavors, but each color tastes the same. Myth busted?

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Fruity Pebbles are a cereal that gets soggy quick, but I never let it get to that point. I Kobayashi’d each bowl before they even had a chance.

I’m not much of a cereal milk lover, but I did my yabba-dabba-due diligence here and drank the yellowy after-milk. While I clearly love the cereal, the liquid was a bit too sugary for my liking. I guess I gotta draw the line somewhere.

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Getting back to the marshmallow shapes, nothing about the aquatic theme of this cereal makes sense. Maybe I need to brush up on my Flintstones lore (and brush my teeth after all that sugar), but how often did Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm dive into the ocean for turtles, starfish, giant clams, jellyfish, and Sharkasauruses?

And how is Sharkasaurus the smallest marshmallow?

Explain that, Post.

Explain that, Hanna-Barbera.

It doesn’t matter. The marshmallows could have been shaped like (use your gross imagination) and I still would’ve devoured this cereal because I love Fruity Pebbles.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup – 110 calories, .5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 13 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.11
Size: 11 oz.
Purchased at: ShopRite
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: One of my favorite cereals ever. The smell. Cereal marshmallows never fail. Game on the back of box. Flintstones in the zeitgeist? The Flintstones Vitamins jingle stuck in your head.
Cons: No toy. Cereal milk sugar shock. Unnecessary elusiveness of Fruity Pebbles treats. Tiny Sharkasauruses.

REVIEW: Java Monster Salted Caramel

Java Monster Salted Caramel

Java Monster flavors are like Ben & Jerry’s flavors in that you could blindfold me in front of the store’s display case that holds them, spin me around multiple times while Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me ‘Round” plays on the store’s P.A. system, allow me to randomly select a flavor, slap that flavor out of my hand, yell “bad doggie” at me, hand me a different flavor, and whatever that is it’ll be tasty.

I’ve never had a horrible Ben & Jerry’s flavor, and after drinking the new Java Monster Salted Caramel, I still haven’t had a bad Java Monster flavor.

Speaking of flavors, Monster Energy, maybe we could see a Pumpkin Spice Java Monster in the fall?

Each can has 170 milligrams of caffeine that gets my heart pumpkin. I mean, pumpin’. Geez, I really want a Java Monster Pumpkin Spice. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s slightly lower than other flavors. Loca Moca and Mean Bean Java Monster has 188 milligrams and Kona Blend Java Monster has 189 milligrams.

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The best way I can describe the coffee drink’s flavor is to say it’s caramel bookended by bursts of saltiness. Now when I write “saltiness” I’m not saying my mouth got slapped by the Morton’s Salt Girl. It’s faint and easy to miss, which I guess is a good thing because I wouldn’t want my mouth to think I’m swimming in the Dead Sea. But the saltiness is so light that if it was called Java Monster Caramel, I wouldn’t think otherwise. As for the caramel flavor, it’s as if Monster melted down Werther’s Original and added it to their coffee, milk, and sugar mixture. Overall, it’s pretty damn good.

But is it better than the other Java Monster flavors?

No.

I like them all equally. But it’s nice to have another flavor, because, I’ll be honest, I was getting a little tired of the vanilla and chocolate flavored ones.

(Nutrition Facts – 15 ounces – 180 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 550 milligrams of sodium, 330 milligrams of potassium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 25 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: 15 oz. can
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Werther’s-like caramel flavor. Easy to drink. Never had a bad Java Monster flavor. Never had a bad Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Pumpkin Spice Java Monster?
Cons: Slightly less caffeine than other Java Monster flavors. “You Spin Me ‘Round” being the default soundtrack to being spun around. Pumpkin Spice Java Monster?