REVIEW: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Dear Nick,

First off, I hope you don’t mind me using your first name. I figure now that I’m older and no longer writing to you on a yearly basis with my egregious gift requests, we could drop the excessive formalities. Speaking of which, I want you to know I harbor no ill will about my letter dated 5 December 1998. Turns out little girls with Olympic aspirations are much more deserving of a pony than any 10-year old boy trying to recreate a scene from Indiana Jones in his backyard. Besides, horses poop. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with that.

Anyways, I’m writing to you this year as one cookie fiend to another. You should know that when you shimmy down chimneys this year you may not find the usual assortment of gingerbread men, peanut butter Kisses, and snickerdoodles arranged neatly beside a glass of milk. What you might find is a bowl of cereal in milk.

I know. It certainly sounds like an egregious attempt to circumvent the spirit of Christmas Eve, or at the very least a cabal by concerned parents trying to teach their children a lesson about saturated fat intake. I also had many reservations. But you, Nick, are more familiar with the inexplicable magic of the season than most, so it should come as no surprise to the man who guides his sled by flying reindeer that cereals can transform into cookies.

How else can you explain a transformation that defies reason? Not to mention evidence that bakeshop-inspired cereals suck.

But this cereal doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty freaking good. While looking the same as 2012’s less than memorable Frosted Toast Crunch, Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is much better. And it’s a worthy substitute for fresh baked cookies in your Christmas Eve travels. And believe me, Nick, I’m a certified expert when it comes to sugar cookies, thanks mostly to the complimentary sugar cookies offered at the Harris Teeter store they opened on our street about a year ago. (Side note: You won’t be putting me on the naughty list for taking more than one on each visit, will you?)

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 2

But back to the cereal, or should I say the mini sugar cookies, because that’s what each one of these little squares taste like. They have a lighter texture on the tongue than the other cereals of the Toast Crunch family, but keep that delightful crisp exterior, which in this case glistens with specks of superfine sugar that mirror freshly fallen snow.

There’s a Frosted Flakes taste going on when you eat the squares dry. It’s not cloying and there isn’t any hint of the toasted richness French Toast Crunch used to have, but there’s something about the crispy texture and vanilla flavor of the sugar which inexplicably registers as sugar cookie. It’s as if, by some commutative property of Christmas magic, the essence of whatever makes a sugar cookie a sugar cookie and not, say, a snickerdoodle, has been extracted and sprinkled over each square.

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 4

I know you’re not one to eat cookies without milk, and the good news for you (and me) is that Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch tastes amazing in milk. The combination of sugar and milk creates an instant flavor of royal icing, and leaves a rich and sweet end milk which should be bottled and sold. Come to think of that, maybe I’ll add that to my Christmas wish list.

Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch isn’t perfect, Nick. It’s still not as great as Frosted Toast Crunch, and I personally still love Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chocolate Toast Crunch better. But when it comes to recreating a cookie taste, don’t be so quick to pass over a bowl left out this Christmas Eve. I think you’ll find it’s worth a few presents in some kid’s stocking. Oh yeah, and please send me a pony.

Sincerely,

Adam

(Nutrition Facts – 31 grams – 130 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Weis Markets
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good representation of sugar cookie flavor. Light and crispy texture plain, with a Frosted Flakes-like aftertaste. Not too sweet. Sucks up milk like a fat man in a red suit. Better than Frosted Toast Crunch. Leaves sugar cookie end milk.
Cons: Still not French Toast Crunch. Possibly laced with Christmas magic dust. Lacks buttery crumb. Still not getting a pony.

REVIEW: Harvey’s Stuffed Cheeseburger (Canada)

Harvey's Stuffed Cheeseburger 1

There’s something irresistible and just a little bit illicit about a hamburger that’s stuffed with cheese, isn’t there? I mean, biting into a juicy hamburger patty only to be greeted by melty, oozing cheese — who can resist that? At the same time, you know it’s something you probably shouldn’t be eating. To paraphrase R. Kelly, your mind will be telling you no, but your body… your body will tell you yeah.

Still, though it’s an amazing idea in theory — and a simple one no less — can a fast food chain, burdened by the rigors of mass production, get it right? Burger King tried it a few years back, but instead of stuffing the burger with a molten core of cheese, they just mixed bits of cheddar into the beef. This removed the gooey cheese pocket altogether (i.e. the whole reason why stuffing a burger with cheese is so appealing) and greatly diminished the cheddar flavour by interspersing it so thoroughly with the beef.

Leave it to Burger King to get something as simple as stuffing a hamburger with cheese wrong.

Harvey’s is generally a cut above BK, so I sort of figured they had a better chance of getting it right. My biggest problem with Harvey’s in general is that all of their burgers have that vaguely rubbery, somewhat hot-doggy texture that most industrially produced frozen patties tend to have. This is a little less pronounced with their higher-end Angus burgers, which seems to be the foundation of the stuffed cheeseburger, so that’s good at least.

Harvey's Stuffed Cheeseburger 2

Happily, I can say rather conclusively that this burger gets the fundamentals right: yes, it is properly stuffed with cheese, and yes, that cheese is oozy and melting. So that’s Harvey’s – 1, Burger King – 0.

The burger itself is typical Harvey’s; it has that oddly chewy, processed texture, but it’s still better than the average frozen burger (it at least retains some beefy flavour and texture, which is more than I can say for some of the bottom-of-the-barrel frozen patties that I’ve had).

As is the traditional Harvey’s way, you can choose your own toppings from behind the glass; I tried to top my burger as close to the publicity shot as possible, so I went with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. The burger in the picture is also topped with ketchup and mustard, but since I didn’t want to overwhelm the taste of the cheese, I went with mayo instead.

The aforementioned molten core of cheese is fairly abundant, and though it falls somewhere in the taste/texture spectrum between Kraft Singles and Cheez Wiz, it’s satisfying. It doesn’t have the strongest cheddar flavour, but it’s certainly fine for what it is. It’s also nicely spread out inside the patty — aside from the outer edges, pretty much every bite has cheese (note to self: start a band so you can release an album called “Every Bite has Cheese”).

Let’s face it — there’s very little here that tastes like real anything, but it’s pretty good in the same way that a Twinkie is pretty good (actually, I prefer Twinkies, which I like more than I should probably admit in a public forum, but you get what I mean). It’s far from a perfect burger stuffed with cheese, but it’s still a burger stuffed with cheese. Try to resist that. I dare you.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on the Harvey’s website.)

Item: Harvey’s Stuffed Cheeseburger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $6.49 (CAN)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Harvey’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Melty, gooey core of cheese. Decent hamburger. Realizing that you should always listen to your body over your mind.
Cons: Cheese only mildly tastes like cheese. Burger is vaguely hot-doggy in texture. Not as good as a Twinkie.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

Ever since buying this tub, I’ve woken up to a THWUMB, THWUMB, THWUMB outside my window. Upon investigating, I find nothing at the window. I am convinced it is a) a very stupid pigeon, b) the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe, or c) a telepathic message from Professor X that states, “Margaret…you’re a Mutant. You must join the X-Men!” No matter which, it’s clear this thing eats cookie butter cups and wants them bad, but can’t quite figure out the whole “opening the window” thing (hence why it is not a breed of hyper-intelligent monkey or particularly creepy human).

But it makes perfect sense for this creature to try to get in every morning to obtain this little tub of aluminum-studded cups. Let me tell you why.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups TJ Cookie Butter cup escapes from foil

Sparing us from frippery of fluted cups, Trader Joe’s delivers a simple, complete concept right out of the golden foil. The size of a mini Reese’s Cup but with a firmer, darker outer shell, these start off with a striking visual impression, a sensation that swiftly carries over to the taste.

This is not a hyper-sugared confection that coats your tongue, no glucose-ridden lozenge that burns as it courses down as if the Almighty were ripping out your trachea. No, this is just quality semisweet chocolate, dark, bitter, and smooth like a 1965 Clint Eastwood riding out into the vengeance-ridden dusk.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup insides!!

Stuffed into each nub is a generous helping of cookie butter paste. Smooth, but slightly crumbly, that inner spread tastes of the named pulverized Speculoos cookies, highlighting the oat-cinnamon streusel notes. This filling, coupled with the woodsy, coffee-wisped chocolate, pushes this candy to the top, the cream of the crop, the Chrome Viking Refrigerators of confectionary-dom.

Just one problemo: there are only 28. Sure, it’s a pretty good number, but for $4.99, I do wish there were a few more. Desperate to hold on for as long as possible, I tried to ration them out. Like today: I’ll only have 2 cups…or maybe 3…or 4…

(2 hours later, upon emptying tub)

Sugar is GOOD!!! I feel I could pick up a lawnmower and fling it across a baseball field! I am invincible! I am unstoppable! I AM a Mutant!

(1 hour later, upon going to Home Depot and looking at lawnmowers)

I overestimated myself. I am not a Mutant. I am not even an Animorph. I am more like the lanky, awkward teenager hired to stand outside the store dressed in a paper mache koala suit. Nothing near a Mutant. Just a mortal, attempting to down a bag of sugar, chocolate, and crumbled cookies.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups Cookie Butter Cup sculpture

But maybe that’s okay. It certainly doesn’t make these cookie butter cups any less delicious. With such quality semisweet chocolate and a good ratio of cookie butter stuffed in each, who needs to be a mutated superhero? Maybe I could become one if I were to share these with that creature that rattles at my window, but me? Share these? I think I would rather be trampled by a fleet of rabid pigeons.*

*Not sure if pigeons can contract rabies.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 pieces – 180 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 11 oz. tub
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Smooth chocolate. Crumbly insides. Streusel-like filling. Nice balance of sugary insides to bittersweet outsides. Provides you with enough energy to throw a lawnmower. Messages from Professor X.
Cons: Those sensitive to dark chocolate may be sad. Runs out quickly. I am not a Mutant. Rabid pigeons.

REVIEW: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 1

I think a poutine might just be the most flexible junk food on the planet. You can top it with pretty much anything. Buffalo chicken? Sure. Hamburger? Why not! If you can dream it up, you can put it on a poutine.

Even still, Burger King’s Poutine á la Burger made me a bit wary. Not because it’s particularly weird, but because, honestly, Burger King isn’t my favourite fast food joint. And by “isn’t my favourite,” I mean it’s my least favourite. I actually used to like it a lot — but they’ve gone downhill quite precipitously over the last 15 years or so. It’s gotten to the point where, these days, a visit fills me with a kind of slow-burn horror that makes me very tempted to just turn around and walk out the door.

Even still, thanks to my childhood affection for the place, I occasionally find myself back there, hoping for the best.

The Poutine á la Burger is simple enough: it’s a regular poutine, topped with a chopped burger patty, mustard, ketchup, and pickles.

Nothing here was particularly good. I don’t think I need to tell you that Burger King’s fries aren’t that great, but I’ll do it anyway: Burger King’s fries aren’t that great. They’re standard mediocre battered fries, which pretty much taste the same wherever they’re served. I suspect that most fast food joints that serve them get them from the same supplier (it tastes that way, at least).

The curds weren’t much better. The main test of a good cheese curd is whether or not it has “squeak” – a subtle squeaking noise that a fresh curd makes when you bite into it. I tried one of the unmelted ones on top, and not only did it not squeak, it had a weirdly mushy, almost mealy texture that was unpleasant and quite unlike any curd I’ve had before.

The gravy was probably a bit more thick and gloppy than it should have been, and was otherwise run-of-the-mill bland canned gravy.

As for the chopped burger patty, it was standard Burger King, with that very distinctive flame-broiled flavour. It also had an unpleasantly gamy taste that generally comes from reheating meat one time too many.

The mustard, ketchup, and pickles were mustard, ketchup, and pickles. Even Burger King can’t mess that up.

I’ll bet you think you know where this review is going. Well, here comes the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 2

All the elements here ranged from passably mediocre to outright gross, so this should have been horrible, right? And in the first few mouthfuls, where I was paying attention to each individual element, it was horrible. But then something odd happened. I started enjoying it. It had all coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.

The curds, once melted by the gravy and the fries, lost their mealy texture. The fries, with their crispy battered coating, stood up well to the abundant gravy. The vinegary bite of the pickles and mustard added a much-needed punch of flavour to the bland gravy. And the gamy taste of the beef was drowned out by the sweetness of the ketchup and the poutine’s other flavours, leaving only a vague beefiness that gave the dish a bit more substance and oomph.

I’m a little bit baffled, honestly. All logic and common sense says that this poutine should have been offensively gross. Each individual component was sub-par, putting it kindly. And yet… and yet, it wasn’t gross. I enjoyed it. It’s as if all the bad canceled each other out and created something that was inexplicably good.

I can barely wrap my head around it. The poutine is objectively awful; I know this. And yet it was weirdly compelling, like a roadside accident that you just can’t stop staring at. About halfway through I told myself to stop eating it, that it was no good, that it was too much, that I’d feel sick. But I couldn’t. I didn’t stop until I had scraped the bottom of the bowl.

I wish I hadn’t eaten this, to be frank. Nothing about it made me feel good, physically or mentally.

Physically, well, that should be fairly obvious. If you pick this thing up, it has heft. I’d be shocked if it weighed less than a pound. Maybe even two. I made the mistake of eating it during my lunch break at work, and I returned to the office clutching my perilously full belly and wanting nothing more than to take a very long nap.

Mentally, it made me question everything about who I am, right down to my very core. Do I have bad taste? I didn’t think so before, but now I’m not so sure. Enjoying something that’s so clearly shoddy has upended everything I thought I knew about myself.

I really don’t know what else to say. I went to Burger King that day to review the Poutine á la Burger, only for it to review me. It peered deep into my soul and found me wanting. It knew who I was, who I am, who I will always be.

It knew everything.

(Nutrition Facts – 880 calories, 46 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1490 milligrams of sodium, 95 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, and 24 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $4.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: In spite of itself, it is surprisingly tasty. Look, I liked it, okay? Don’t make me say more.
Cons: Run-of-the-mill battered fries, mediocre gravy, gross curds, off-tasting beef. Realizing that you like this despite all that and therefore have terrible taste in food. Having your soul laid bare. Self doubt.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 1

McRibs, McNuggets, McFlurries — I love ‘em all. Want to know the truth? Just slap a “Mc-” prefix in front of any remotely edible substance and I’ll gladly give it a taste. McPossum, anyone?

And that’s why I’m slightly upset that these McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks aren’t actually called “McMozzSticks” or a similar clumsily-formed name. According to The Wire, these breaded, fried strips of cheese are currently being test-marketed at select McDonald’s restaurants in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

Because I happen to live in the state that gave the world Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and Teresa Giudice, I’ve been granted the privilege of trying these mozzarella sticks. By the way, do you guys want Teresa Giudice? We’ve had enough of her.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 2

For only a single dollar, I received three tiny mozzarella sticks and a packet of marinara dipping sauce. According to the accompanying cardboard box, the mozzarella sticks are made with “real mozzarella.” I’m glad to see McDonald’s chose to forego using fake mozzarella in their product. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a fake. That’s why I threw out all of my Milli Vanilli CDs, refuse to buy Chanel handbags in Chinatown, and will only look Pamela Anderson straight in the eyes.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 3

Lucky for me, McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks were nothing but the real deal. The breading was well-seasoned and evident in each bite, but stopped short of overwhelming the mozzarella flavor. Although the mozzarella sticks weren’t hot enough for the cheese inside to ooze, they were still warm enough to be satisfying. The exterior was slightly crisp from the fryer, and each mozzarella stick maintained its shape when handled. Let’s face it — nobody wants a soggy, flaccid cheese stick. (Ladies?)

Though smaller in size than I had anticipated, the mozzarella sticks had exceeded my expectations, rivaling more expensive versions of the same product sold at other chain restaurants. I was ecstatic, floating in a state of cheesy bliss…

Then, I made a mistake.

I dipped my second mozzarella stick into the marinara sauce.

There are no words to describe the pain.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 4

I’ve eaten a lot of McDonald’s products over the years. Many of them were delicious, many of them were tolerable, but very few were truly awful. Alas, this single packet of marinara sauce is the undisputed worst-tasting item I’ve ever experienced at a McDonald’s restaurant. (As a disclaimer, I’ve never tried that strange-looking black hamburger McDonald’s Japan recently launched.)

Each taste of McDonald’s marinara sauce brings to mind overcooked tomato sauce saturated with excessive amounts of oregano in an attempt to cover up the flawed flavor. As opposed to the smooth, tomato essence of a slow-cooked red sauce, McDonald’s marinara is slightly bitter, producing a mild burning sensation at the back of the throat. In short, McDonald’s has failed to replicate any positive aspect of an Italian marinara sauce. Their bastardization would make your little Italian grandmother cry for an hour, beat Ronald McDonald with a rolling pin, and then beat you with a rolling pin — just for good measure.

Disregarding the botched marinara sauce, these McDonald’s mozzarella sticks are worth a try. Sure, they might be small, but their low price makes the temptation of buying twenty-five boxes hard to resist. If these become a regular item on the McDonald’s menu, I will definitely order them again.

But take heed of my warning: if you ever purchase these mozzarella sticks, please, for the love of God, just throw out the sauce.

(Nutrition Facts – No nutritional info available on McDonald’s USA website.)

Item: McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks
Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Mozzarella and seasoned breading evident in each bite. Not limp and flaccid. Only one dollar for three. None of that fake mozzarella nonsense.
Cons: Cheese doesn’t ooze. Marinara sauce is indescribably awful. Rolling pin beatings.