REVIEW: Pumpkin Spice Latte Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Pumpkin Spice Latte Milk Chocolate M&M's

As I write this review from a prominently visible window seat at my obscure local coffee shop, I heave an exaggerated sigh and wipe my thick-framed, non-prescription glasses so that passerby will notice the towering pages of the novel manuscript that sit next to my vintage typewriter—which I hauled all the way here from my fixed gear bicycle because modern day computers simply can’t compete with the satisfying *clack* of old keys.

My novel is called (M)issed Connection, and I wrote it to impress that cute girl sipping the Pumpkin Spice Latte across the room. What’s that, you say? “That girl” is just the Brown M&M mascot on a bag of Pumpkin Spice Latte M&M’s?

Hey, maybe “anthropomorphized, chocolate-filled oblate candy spheroid” is my type. Or maybe I just want to eat her limited edition M&M’s.

That’s right, Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Latte M&M’s are Mars’ attempt to give a rejuvenating jolt to last year’s lackluster Pumpkin Spice M&M’s. As a coffee snob, I’m hoping there’s a whole “latte” improvement between the two with the drink’s name tacked on. But will it “mocha” difference? Now that I’ve filled my bad coffee pun quota, let’s find out.

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These M&M’s are beefier than their normal counterparts, edging close to “a dime on Viagra” sized. The scent wafting from the bag reminds me of my “Pumpkin Splendor” scented candle that I’ve considered eating more times than I’d like to admit. This is a good sign.

I pop one into my mouth, chew, and then immediately shovel a whole handful into my gaping maw. Regardless of your religion’s stance on the existence of the Great Pumpkin, you’d better believe that these suckers are real -— real tasty, that is.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Milk Chocolate M&M's 3

Coming as a delightful surprise, they taste exactly like a pumpkin spice latte in solid, shelled form. But what that means is that, like a real PSL, the coffee flavor in these M&M’s is smothered by cream and sugar.

If you’re expecting the strong, earthy, bitterness of espresso, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the coffee taste of the chocolate here is a sweet, lightly nutty java experience with faint caramel notes. Accompanied by a tinge of cocoa and a heaping helping of milk chocolate’s dairy creaminess, it’s akin to one of those bottled Starbucks Chocolate Mocha Frappuccinos.

Unlike the burning aftertaste of last year’s M&M’s, the smooth pumpkin flavor here is seamlessly blended with the chocolate and hits fast. In terms of pumpkin spice’s “Big 5,” these M&M’s are heavy on the ginger and sweet cinnamon, light on the nutmeg, and nearly imperceptible in terms of cloves and allspice. This means the M&M’s lack any of the pungent, sinus-clearing spice action you’d get from opening your spice cabinet and huffing the jar of cloves (the things I do for this blog…sheesh).

Pumpkin Spice Latte Milk Chocolate M&M's 4

And that’s good, because when people buy a PSL, we don’t really want bitterness, spiciness, or even authentic pumpkin-ness. We want the delicious, sugary equivalent of melted coffee ice cream blended with a hefty squirt of fake pumpkin liquid. And that’s a pretty darn good way to summarize these M&M’s.

Sure, they taste synthetic and have a throat-coating syrupiness. And sure, you’ll probably see some post on “Natural Yoga Mama’s Spirit Cleansing Mommy Blog” about how artificial pumpkin flavorings are co-conspiring with aspartame to overthrow capitalism. But like any PSL, over-the-top fakeness is what makes these great!

So if you’re like me and enjoy “basic” pumpkin spice lattes, you’ll love these M&M’s.

And if you don’t? Well, I think I might have a can of Libby’s Pumpkin you can jam a straw into.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/4 cup – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Pumpkin Spice Latte Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 9.9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Bite-sized pumpkin spice latte facsimiles. Frappuccino chocolate = pure Frappiness. Safely indulging my candle-eating fantasy. Candy mascot fanfiction. Learning what an “oblate spheroid” is.
Cons: Won’t convert PSL haters. Artificialness will disappoint pumpkin farmers. Socially taboo human/candy romance. Huffing cloves for “research purposes.”

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips (Canada)

Lay's Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips

It’s a good thing I don’t live anywhere close to Montreal, because if I did, I’d be at Schwartz’s (which is the most famous –- and arguably the best -– smoked meat joint in that city) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And brunch. And a mid-afternoon snack. And what’s that Taco Bell thing? FourthMeal? Yeah, that too.

Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of Montreal smoked meat, so when I found out it was going to be one of the new Do Us a Flavour flavours, I knew I’d be eating the hell out of it (admittedly, I was probably going to eat the hell out of any new chip flavour regardless, but I digress).

When you think about it, Montreal smoked meat, with its distinctive spicing and universally appealing flavour profile (seriously, if you don’t like Montreal smoked meat or its close cousin, pastrami, and you’re not a vegetarian, then you’re a monster and I have nothing but scorn for you), I’m surprised it’s taken Lay’s this long to get there. It seems so obvious.

Lay's Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips 2

It’s a natural flavour for a chip; the chip performs a similar function, taste-wise, as the starchy bread. Plus, these sandwiches are often served with French fries or even latkes, so smoked meat + potato is definitely a combination you can feel good about.

But of course, as seemingly perfect as this flavour is, there’s no guarantee that Lay’s isn’t going to mess it up (*cough*Butter Chicken*cough*).

Happily (and shockingly, given how thoroughly they bungled the butter chicken flavour), this is pretty much the ideal version of this chip. Everything about it is just right: the spicing, the slight mustard flavour, the pronounced but not overly assertive peppery bite… it’s weirdly perfect.

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I kinda wish it was paired with the more assertive crunch of a kettle chip, but then I wish that of pretty much every non-kettle-chip chip, so that’s probably more about my own personal preferences than anything else.

Seriously though, you need to try these chips. They absolutely nailed the flavour. It’s like they took a smoked meat sandwich and used some kind of magic ray to transform it into a bag of chips.

It’s like the future is here, and you can eat it.

(Nutrition Facts – 50 grams/per 27 chips – 270 calories, 17 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 260 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 CAN
Size: 170 gram bag
Purchased at: Sobeys
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Captures the flavour of Montreal smoked meat perfectly. Magic. The future.
Cons: Would probably work a bit better as a kettle chip. Proximity-based inability to eat Schwartz’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and FourthMeal.

REVIEW: Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers

Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers

Cheez-It and I have been on bad terms lately.

I recently tried their Crunch’d cheese puffs and they were a 3 out of 10 at best. Horrendous. They tasted like cheese flavored Cap’n Crunch. No bueno. It’s time for Cheez-It to win me back.

Sunshine, the maker of Cheez-It, have apparently been getting bombarded with requests for an “extra toasty” flavor of their flagship cracker. Now look, I’m not saying Sunshine is lying about the claim, but I would have never considered “extra toasty” a “flavor.” Maybe I should have.

I realized as I was eating these Cheez-Its that I love toasty and burnt snacks. This notion never dawned on me until that very moment. I love extra dark pretzels. I like that one over-browned Saltine in the sleeve, burnt chocolate chip cookies, and that one extra crispy French fry at the bottom of the bag. I even order my pizza “well done” so the crust is burnt and crispy. The people who were requesting extra toasty Cheez-Its were definitely on to something, and Sunshine delivered.

Extra Toasty Cheez-Its are friggin’ delicious. These are one of the most satisfying salty snacks I’ve had in a long time. In my opinion, they’ve improved on the regular ones in just about every way possible. I’m not positive the difference will blow everyone away, but I don’t see any reason to ever go back to the regular variety. If Cheez-Its were a Hollywood movie, these would be the ever-so-popular dark, gritty reboot of the outdated original that didn’t quite hold up over the years. These extra toasty ones are just flat better. Get with the times.

Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers 3

Cheez-Its always did the cheddar flavor right. It doesn’t overpowering you with the artificial stuff that other brands go overboard with, and these keep that family tradition alive with 100% real cheese. That being said, the “cheez” flavor wasn’t even really the star of the show for me, it was the flakey crunch of the extra toasty cracker itself. Add the perfectly complementing salt element on each piece, and they really hit a home run here. There’s a perfect balance happening. After every bite I wanted to yell “Toastttty” like that random dude who used to pop his head into Mortal Kombat levels…too obscure?

The aftertaste is pleasant as well. The flavor doesn’t dilute at all after you swallow. In fact, that might be a problem to some because it’s addictive, and you’ll want to just keep shoveling more of these down for the crunch factor.

As much as I wanted to give these a perfect ten, there is a bit of a grease factor. These would fall somewhere between Goldfish and potato chips on the grease scale. I noticed the paper plate I was eating off of was almost translucent once I finished.

I guess I should also warn you that the salt was pretty excessive here. That was not even remotely a problem for me, but I could understand it being a turnoff for some.

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So, basically, my one complaint about the Extra Toasty Cheez-Its is that I wanted to finish the box in one sitting, but couldn’t thanks to a bit of heartburn. But I probably could have powered through it if I wanted to, so that’s not even a strong complaint.

If I learned one thing from eating these, it’s that “toasty” should absolutely be the new trendy “flavor.” More brands need to embrace this. I want burnt Ritz. Burnt potato and tortilla chips. Burnt Goldfish. Take your recipe and add an addition 5-10 minutes of baking time, slap a new name on the box and you’ve got yourself a sale. I have become a food pyro.

My hat goes off to Cheez-It for changing the cracker game, and for making the decision to put the hyphen in their name after the “Z.” No matter how good these tasted, I would have never bought a snack called “Chee-Zit.”

(Nutrition Facts – 27 crackers – 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Cheez-It Extra Toasty Crackers
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.4 oz. box
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Toasty is the new Orange is the New Black. Perfect flavor harmony. Flakey crunch. Crazy addictive. Proper hyphen usage. Fan requests. Mortal Kombat’s “Toasty” guy.
Cons: Greasy. Might need a Tums handy. Food pyros. Cheese flavored Cap’n Crunch.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

As the great poetic lyricist Gwen Stefani once soulfully crooned: “This s*** is bananas: B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”

And if any one song lyric best encapsulates the essence of these new Hostess Banana Split Twinkies, it’s that one. Because even though their appearance is remarkably fecal, beneath that waxy brown exterior is a surprisingly delightful banana treat. In fact, perhaps “Bananaphone” by the legendary symphonist Raffi is a more fitting track, because once you try these, you’ll want to get on the phone and tell your friends.

Sporting a blinding yellow box, a product photo that hypnotically radiates a white aura, and a guest appearance by those seemingly omnipresent Minions (we get it: they like bananas), Hostess is firing on all sensory cylinders in order to make you buy this product.

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The box describes the Twinkies as “frosted cake with artificially flavored strawberry topping and banana creme filling.” The idea of Banana Creme Twinkies and Chocodiles having a sugary love-child is enough to draw me in, but the unique strawberry kicker makes these even more interesting. To paraphrase DiCaprio: “Hostess, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”

Since these are Banana Split Twinkies, there was no better way for me to eat one than to cleave it in twain vertically and observe its many layers like a spongy version of one of those Star Wars cross-section books.

Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies 3

Beneath the chocolate crust of Planet Twinkie lies a thin jam layer with a few sporadically spaced, strangely square strawberry land mines. After these is a sponge cake mantle which guards the tempting pale yellow creme core. Ready your best Brendan Fraser impression, kids; we’re journeying to the center of the Twinkie.

The fragile chocolate coating’s flavor is far from distinct: heavy on the generic, cloying sugar taste and light on any real cocoa richness. Yet, I find myself okay with this because the chocolate simply isn’t meant to be the star of the show. The same goes for the rare strawberry clusters, which provide little more than a slight fruity burst and an interesting textural contrast. The golden cake section is doughy and dense, yet tame; like the vanilla ice cream it is meant to imitate, it exists only to provide a springboard for the creme center to perform its tasty alley-oop.

Because, as with many of Hostess’ new products, the creme makes the cake. Despite the artificial flavorings, it’s impressive how authentic the banana taste was. If I were to score the realism of the creme on my patented “Bananometer” (try spelling that, Gwen), which ranges from “Banana Laffy Taffy” to “uhh, that’s an actual banana,” it would land closer to the latter.

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Eaten all together, I can earnestly say this cake does taste like a banana split. Like a good glass of wine with cheese or an Exodia deck in Yu-Gi-Oh, the parts work together to unlock each other’s true potential. With the banana flavor rightfully dominating, the strawberry nodules explode and support it with an appreciated bit of tartness, while the chocolate and sponge cake compliment the fruity sweetness with a buttery one. If you’re in the mood for a banana split, but not the work that comes with it, just pop one of these in the freezer, and you won’t be disappointed.

Somewhere, deep within a Hostess laboratory, is a team of flavor scientists who labored endlessly to perfect this flavor balance, and I give them praise. Bravo to you, certified “Bananologists.”

(My apologies again to Ms. Stefani.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 9 cakes
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a banana split. Balanced hierarchy of flavors. Satisfactory Bananometer results. Illegitimate snack cake children. Raffi.
Cons: Sporadic strawberry usage. Probably won’t win over banana haters. “Crappy” first impressions. Market over-saturation of Minions. Banana Laffy Taffy.

REVIEW: McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken (Canada)

McDonald's I'm Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken 3

There’s something inherently wrong about a salad at McDonald’s, isn’t there? I mean, it’s McDonald’s — their whole M.O. is supposed to be serving burgers and fries and other tasty junk that might just kill you if you eat them too regularly.

If you told the ten-year-old version of me that McDonald’s would one day be serving salads with kale in them, I’m going to guess that he’d angrily call you a liar. He’d also probably wonder who you are and why you’re giving him useless factoids about 2015. Oh and also, while you’re there? Could you tell him to major in something a bit more useful than political science? What’s that? This is just a rhetorical device? You’re not actually a time-traveller out to blow the minds of ten-year-olds with news from the future? Darn.

Of course, salads aren’t anything particularly new at McDonald’s, but this Kale-fueled relaunch does have an air of desperation about it. This feeling is especially pronounced when combined with the recent high-profile launch of the 21st century take on the Hamburglar; the once-cute cartoon character has been transformed into a generically handsome fashion model (who was almost instantly dubbed the “hipster Hamburglar” by the media).

Clearly, McDonald’s has lost whatever cache they once had (along with loads and loads of money), and it’s easy to think that they’re just throwing random things at the wall to see what sticks.

All that being said? I loved this salad.

It feels weird to even type that. It’s a salad… at McDonald’s… and I loved it.

I know that even mentioning that I love a salad probably means I have to turn in my junk-food-lover’s gun and badge to the junk food angry captain, but hey, if it’s tasty it’s tasty.

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There’s a lot going on in this salad. There’s the lettuce blend (a whopping eight different types of lettuce, as per their website), kale, sliced cucumber and red peppers, crumbled feta, a couscous blend (which has stuff like sun-dried tomato and olives), chicken, a packet of pita chips, and the creamy Greek feta dressing.

It seems like it should be too much stuff, but it all works together surprisingly well.

The kale is actually baby kale; this is a good thing, as regular kale is a bit impenetrably fibrous and can be tough to love. The lettuce mix otherwise tastes like any number of ready-to-eat mixes you’ll find in a plastic box or bag at the supermarket.

All the other stuff works together quite nicely: the creamy dressing, the fresh veggies, the salty pop of the cheese, the hearty quinoa…

Wait, I think I’m going to have to call a Zack Morris-style time out: I never in a million years thought I’d be applauding quinoa and “fresh veggies” when I signed on to write for this site. Seriously, what’s happening right now??

Okay, time in: the pita chips — essentially this salad’s take on croutons — are a little heavy on the garlic powder, but otherwise work pretty well.

McDonald's I'm Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken

The weak point is probably the chicken. You have the choice of grilled or crispy chicken, but since their promotional shots showed grilled, that’s what I went with. It’s not bad, and it does give the salad much of its substance, but it’s a little dry and stringy.

The salad costs seven bucks, which on the surface seems a bit pricey — but I could imagine paying double (at least) for this exact same salad at a restaurant with waiters and menus, so it’s not as bad as it seems.

When all is said and done, however, is this salad even that healthy? I mean, it’s got a bunch of healthy stuff in it, so yeah, probably?

But McDonald’s is sneaky with the way they present the nutritional information on their website; if you look up this salad, the info neglects to include the dressing. In fact, the dressing doesn’t even come up when you click on salads — you have to specifically search for it.

When you add up the creamy Greek dressing and the salad, you’re looking at 420 calories and 26 grams of fat, which is a 110 calories less than a Big Mac, and only three less grams of fat. It’s still much healthier than a burger, I’m sure, but more calorie and fat-laden than you might expect. So maybe I can keep my gun and badge?

(Nutrition Facts – Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken – 280 calories, 12 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 770 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fibre, 3 grams of sugar, and 27 grams of protein. Greek Feta Dressing – 40 grams – 140 calories, 14 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 310 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken
Purchased Price: $6.99 (CAN)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s Canada
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Fresh-tasting ingredients. Tasty combination of flavours. Good value for the quality of food. Healthy?
Cons: Stringy chicken. The embarrassment of praising a salad on a junk food site. Bastardization of beloved mascots. Scientific impossibility of time travel.