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.

3 Comments

REVIEW: Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza

That mascot dude can only say one word, right? All these years and Little Caesars just propped this guy up—handicap and all—and let him be the clown prince face of the company.

“Pizza! Pizza!”

Translation: “Please pick up my kids after school. I have to work late tonight.”

“Pizza! Pizza!”

Translation: “Please. I don’t want any more pizza.”

Well, say hello hello to the new Bacon Wrapped Crust Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza. And judging from the amount of pork on this thing, they taught Caesar to say another word. “Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!” That’s eight times, said by four Little Caesar guys, which is enough fellas to be pallbearers at my funeral after I die from bacon-itis (a.k.a. heart disease).

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 3

The pizza is a “Detroit style” deep dish with bacon wrapped around the corners and with bacon bits sprinkled on top. I’m not completely sure what Detroit style deep dish is, but if this is any representation, it originated from a Detroit elementary school lunch program.

It’s crazy (like their bread!) that a pizza can be so greasy yet so dry and bready in the middle. But we’re here for the bacon. And the bacon presents a dichotomy. At first bite, the bacon on the crust is not as salty as expected, thus less tasty. It is fairly crispy and adds a slight textural curveball, although it overshadows the existing deep dish crust instead of amplifying it. A few slices in, however, it’s better that the saltiness is turned down a bit as pizza eating is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s so much of a marathon, in fact, that they’re adding it to the Olympics. But the Winter Olympics. Cross country ski a while, shoot a rifle, and then scarf down a personal pan pizza.

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 4

The bacon bits are similarly bland-ish and while the bacon that lines the crust adds a small amount of smoky flavor, the bits just add grease and a tiny bit of sweetness. To be fair, I’ve seen pictures of other people’s orders and it seems like they spilled way more on my pizza and decided I look like some sort of pork beast that wouldn’t mind. They half-pegged me. I am a pork beast, but I did mind a little bit. The pepperoni did its job fine but frankly it was out-smoked by its meat cousin. A different ingredient could have expanded the flavor dynamics a bit more. This pork beast disapproves.

The difference between this one and the regular non-bacon deep dish pizza is four bucks. You’re probably better off frying some up and placing it on top of the pie yourself for that price. I don’t think the bacon they use is great quality and the promise of a bacon wrapped crust does not enhance the flavors any more than just eating some bacon alongside some cheap pizza. That’s where we’re at, people. I just wrote “a bacon wrapped crust does not enhance…” You bastards. You broke bacon.

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 2

The aforementioned elementary school quality does tick off some sort of nostalgia box, though. The spongy dough punctuated with a greasy slick finish of lubricated cheese. Takes me back to pogs, algebra, and reading out loud in class.

Oh, gorsh. Imagine Little Caesar reading out loud in class.

“Kids, turn to page 67 of Animal Farm. Caesar, can you read for us?”

“Pizza! Pizza! Pizza… Pizza? Pizza. Pizza.”

“You can tell Orwell is paralleling the Bolshevik Revolution because of the tone in which Caesar said ‘pizza.’”

Welp, that mascot dude found a job and made a decent living after all. I hope he gets to date Wendy from Wendy’s (the older one, not the little kid). God bless America, America.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 450 calories, 23 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, and 830 milligrams of sodium.)

Item: Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza
Purchased Price: $12
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Little Caesars
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Smoky flavor from bacon comes through a bit. Not prohibitively salty. Comforting as bready pizza.
Cons: Greasy. Bready ass crust. Bacon on pizza is just that, nothing more.

11 Comments

REVIEW: Heinz Sriracha Tomato Ketchup

Heinz Sriracha Tomato Ketchup

If you love sriracha, there’s a very good chance you have a bottle of it in your kitchen right now.

And there’s a much greater chance you have a bottle of ketchup in your kitchen or, at least, several ketchup packets you’ve accumulated from generous fast food drive-thru workers who dumped an uncounted amount of ketchup packets into your bag after you said “yes” to the question, “Would you like ketchup?”

If the idea of sriracha ketchup excites you, and you have bottles of sriracha and ketchup in your kitchen, you’re better off combining the two instead of purchasing Heinz’s Sriracha Ketchup.

When I first heard about Heinz’s Sriracha Ketchup, I was excited because I love sriracha. But when I started thinking harder than anyone should over a condiment, I realized if I want a sriracha-flavored condiment for burgers, fries, hot dogs, and limp Kid Cuisine chicken nuggets, wouldn’t it be better to use sriracha over a sriracha-flavored ketchup?

Also, while thinking harder than anyone should over a condiment, I might’ve realized why Heinz decided to make a sriracha ketchup. The difference between ketchup and sriracha is as small as the difference between humans and chimpanzees. Because both condiments have salt, sugar, vinegar, garlic and/or onion, if I was somehow able to remove the tomatoes in ketchup and replace it with chili peppers, I’d have something that tastes similar to sriracha. And if I were to remove the chili peppers from sriracha and replace it with tomatoes, I’d have ketchup.

You’d think combining sriracha with ketchup would create a new Asian condiment. Well, it doesn’t. But it does taste like a old Mexican condiment — taco sauce.

Yeah, not what I was expecting.

After doing more research than anyone should on condiments, I learned it makes sense Heinz’s Sriracha Ketchup tastes like taco sauce, because the combination of ingredients IS taco sauce. Here are the ingredients found in Ortego Taco Sauce: Tomato Puree, Water, Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Paprika, Citric Acid, Green Chile Powder, and Onion Powder.

Heinz Sriracha Tomato Ketchup Closeup

Regular ketchup (top) Heinz Sriracha Ketchup (bottom).

The back of the Heinz Sriracha Ketchup bottle says it has a “hint of garlic,” but when I ate them with fries, I couldn’t detect it. Garlic isn’t listed in the ingredients list, but I imagine it’s included with “Natural Flavorings” on the list. While I didn’t taste any garlic, I did notice the ketchup had some heat to it. Its spiciness was slightly less than the rooster sauce I have in my kitchen.

Speaking of the sriracha in my kitchen, since I have some and a bunch ketchup packets, I decided to combine the two and compare it with the Heinz Sriracha Ketchup. The condiment mixture, which had more ketchup than sriracha, had a better flavor. I could taste the garlic and it wasn’t similar to taco sauce.

Overall, if you’re a fan of sriracha, I can’t recommend Heinz Sriracha Ketchup. But if you’re a fan of taco sauce, I can recommend this.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Tbsp – 20 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Heinz Sriracha Tomato Ketchup
Purchased Price: $5.19
Size: 14 oz. bottle
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not horrible. Pleasant spiciness. Having sriracha in the kitchen. Having ketchup in the kitchen. Fast food drive-thru employees who make it rain ketchup packets.
Cons: Tastes like taco sauce. Lacks garlic flavor. Garlic isn’t listed in the ingredients list. Limp Kid Cuisine chicken nuggets. Thinking harder than anyone should over condiments. Mixing rooster sauce and ketchup tastes better.

2 Comments

REVIEW: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

It’s hard to believe Taco Bell decided to get out of their Tex-Mex comfort zone with their new Sriracha Quesarito. But then again, I guess it was inevitable since sriracha continues to be a popular ingredient.

It’s gotten so trendy that if you went to a grocery store and threw a open bottle of sriracha at a random aisle, there’s a very good chance the mess would hit something sriracha flavored. And sriracha’s growth can also be seen in the fast food industry. Subway offered their Sriracha Chicken Melt, Jack in the Box has sriracha sandwiches and breakfast burritos, White Castle put it on their sliders, and Pizza Hut offers it as topping and crust options.

Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito features a burrito stuffed with premium Latin rice, seasoned ground beef, reduced fat sour cream, and Taco Bell’s own sriracha, and a quesadilla with nacho cheese sauce and more sriracha that’s wrapped around the burrito.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 2

I haven’t had the original Quesarito, but from what I’ve read, it’s tastes and eats like a burrito. So I expected the Sriracha Quesarito to taste like a burrito with sriracha.

Let’s talk about the sriracha first.

As I ate the Sriracha Quesarito, I wasn’t sure if there was enough sauce on the one I received or if the other ingredients were muting the sauce’s flavor, because I couldn’t really taste the sauce in about half the bites. Whatever flavor I could get, I considered it to be everything I expect sriracha to be.

Garlicky? Check.

Peppery? Check.

Tangy? Check.

While I couldn’t taste the sauce too much, there was a nice amount of heat. And I imagine if the sour cream wasn’t an ingredient in the Sriracha Quesarito, it would be a bit hotter.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 3

The sauce went well with the premium Latin rice and seasoned ground beef (you can also get it with shredded chicken and steak). Actually, the cilantro, garlic, and onion in the rice paired well with the sriracha when I could taste it. The nacho cheese sauce and sriracha in the quesadilla made a nice sriracha con queso that gushed into my mouth a few times as I ate my way through the entree.

Although I didn’t get a strong punch of sriracha flavor in every bite, I did enjoy Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito. I think if you’re a fan of the sauce, you should definitely give it a try. The Asian-Tex-Mex combination does work and I’d like to see sriracha in more Taco Bell items. Or I’d love to see Taco Bell’s sriracha sauce end up in packets.

(Nutrition Facts – 650 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1720 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito
Purchased Price: $3.29*
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It has sriracha. Asian-Tex-Mex combination works. Sauce has a nice heat. Premium Latin rice pairs well with the sriracha. Cheese from quesadilla oozing into my mouth. Addition of sriracha in the quesadilla.
Cons: Sour cream bringing down the heat. Simple combination of ingredients. Half of the time, I couldn’t really taste the sriracha.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

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