QUICK REVIEW: Ultimate Chicken Helper Cheddar Broccoli

Chicken Helpter Ultimate Cheddar Broccoli

Purchased Price: $3.00 (on sale)
Size: 8.9 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Creamy and cheesy. Made with real cheddar cheese. Quick and simple to prepare. I’d make it again if I was feeling slightly more energetic than microwaveable meal lazy. Pasta was cooked just right. Better when you add your own broccoli. Thank goodness Betty Crocker didn’t call it Xtreme Chicken Helper.
Cons: What makes it “Ulitmate” is kind of lame; it’s just a creamy cheddar cheese sauce packet. Cheese sauce packet doesn’t seems to make it creamier than non-Ultimate Chicken Helper. Size of broccoli pieces look like someone sneezed on a cutting board that was just used to chop broccoli and all the leftover bits flew onto this dish.

Chicken Helpter Ultimate Cheddar Broccoli Closeup

Nutrition Facts (prepared): 1 cup – 310 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat*, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 27 grams of protein.

*made with partially hydrogenated oils

REVIEW: Betty Crocker Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch Muffin Mix

CerealMuffinMixes

I’ve written before at no brief length about my love of breakfast cereals.

Stand-up comedians seem to articulate my feelings about cereal well — Jerry Seinfeld opining that he loves being able to eat and drink simultaneously with one hand while reading the paper, and Mike Birbiglia admitting that if he buys a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at four in the afternoon, that box ain’t making it to eight o’clock the next morning.

Both of those observations apply to me, and ever since I became an adult (no, it’s true, I pay taxes and work and everything), I’ve struggled with limiting cereal to just breakfast time. Honestly, why would you? I guess if you’re on a diet or pinching pennies, maybe, but otherwise it’s the perfect snack.

Apparently General Mills is thinking along the same lines, because they recently released a line of cereal-based muffin mixes through the Betty Crocker brand. No word yet on whether that’s due to an impeding global milk shortage (we have top people looking into it. Top. People.), but the goal is for you and I to be able to enjoy all the benefits of a nice bowl of dry cereal in a far more portable manner. There are three kinds so far: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese’s Puffs, and Cocoa Puffs, of which we’ll be taking a look at the first two.

On a sidenote, I’m a little surprised to find two classic cereals sharing space with a relative newcomer like Reese’s Puffs, but I guess they probably wanted some variety and there aren’t that many peanut butter-based cereals to choose from. (Although there WOULD be if everyone had kept eating E.T. cereal like we all agreed. No, I haven’t gotten over it.)

CerealMuffinMixes2

But let’s start with the aromatic wonder itself. Right, I didn’t mention that yet… yeah, they smell. The Reese’s Puffs batter has an extremely noticeable scent that’s vaguely peanut-ish but mostly chemical-y, not to overload on hyphens. It’s not acrid or reminiscent of a filled diaper or anything, but describing it as “pleasant” would be something more than a stretch. My wife was helping me make them because, even though they’re extremely easy to prepare, I’m not skilled in the culinary arts and we didn’t want them to end up with refrigerator magnets or loose change in them; and in her opinion, the smell was really distracting. To be fair, I’ll offer that the aroma is far less prevalent when they come out of the oven…

…but that’s somewhat cold comfort, because the bad news is that while the scent lessens, the muffin itself is sporting a very artificial taste. There’s a sliiiiiight peanut butter flavor, but it’s pretty mild, which may or may not be true to the actual cereal itself. The muffin was fairly moist, though really that’s ultimately up to you and your stove. Most of the taste you’re going to be getting is a fairly standard chocolate, albeit tinged with that same artificial flavor and aftertaste. It’s okay, but certainly not comparable to some of the better, or even average, chocolate and/or peanut butter muffins you’ve had in your life.

CerealMuffinMixes3

And not that we at TIB advocate judging a book by its cover (despite all being jaw-droppingly attractive people ourselves), but you’ll notice from the picture that the “peanut butter” crumbs sort of melt into each other and congeal, whereas on the box they’re all perfectly separated and look crunchy rather than gooey. Yeah, yeah, no one expects truth in advertising, but they do look a bit less palatable in reality.

CerealMuffinMixes4

Okay, but Cinnamon Toast Crunch will be our savior, right? Wendell and those two other bakers who got blacklisted after admitting their relationship have never let us down. Well, don’t be so hasty — the counterpoint to CTC’s awesomeness is that any kind of spinoff has a lot to live up to. Which was a bigger disappointment, The Godfather Part III or Police Academy 3? Exactly. But it does get off to a better start than the Reese’s Puffs mix just by virtue of the batter not smelling as odd.

Actually making the muffins is just as simple, the work of maybe 10 minutes, tops. Basically all you need is vegetable oil, two eggs, and water. You don’t even need paper baking cups, though my wife used Spider-Man ones anyway because that’s how we roll.

CerealMuffinMixes5

I like the look of them better than the Reese’s Puffs muffins, because the cinnamon sprinkled on the top looks more natural and less, well, blobbish. As for taste? Sigh… well, they’re better, you can say that. But that’s faint praise, because they still aren’t anything to write home about, unless you like disappointing your mother. More than usual, I mean. (She just wants what’s best for you, dear.)

You can taste the cinnamon more so than you could the peanut butter on the other kind, but it still carries that distinctly artificial flavor, somewhat moist but with a lingering aftertaste that isn’t found in nature. It smells better, so there’s that. And like the Reese’s Puffs kind, they’re pretty filling, so you shouldn’t need to eat more than one or two to fill you up for breakfast. But I still can’t recommend them any higher than a general “Eh… I’ve had worse.”

Damning with faint praise, I know, but what are you going to do? Maybe trying to capture the magic of cereal sans milk was always doomed to failure. Or maybe it could have worked with different ingredients. My gut tells me that this is just sort of what you get with instant muffins, but who knows. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that these particular muffins are subpar. Unless you’re just inadvisably curious, don’t waste your time.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 muffin – Reese’s Puffs – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 3 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 85 milligrams of potassium, 22 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugars, 2 grams of protein. Cinnamon Toast Crunch – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 2.5 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 40 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein.)

Other Betty Crocker Cereal Muffin Mix reviews:
Baking Bites (Cinnamon Toast Crunch)
Foodette Reviews (Reese’s Puffs)
The Smart Cookie Cook (Cocoa Puffs & Reese’s Puffs)

Item: Betty Crocker Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch Muffin Mix
Purchased Price: $2.59 each
Size: 12.75
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Reese’s Puffs)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Cinnamon Toast Crunch)
Pros: Super easy to make. Spider-Man baking cups. Cereal, the perfect food. Cinnamon tastes artificial, but not terrible. Police Academy 3, kinda. Not that bad for you, all things considered. More portable than real cereal.
Cons: Not as good as real cereal. Reese’s Puff batter has a weird smell. No more E.T. cereal. Taste is uninspired and artificial. Reese’s Puffs muffins don’t look too appealing. The Godfather Part III. Maybe trying the Cocoa Puffs kind would’ve been better?

REVIEW: Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles Yellow Cupcake Mix with Creamy Vanilla Filling

Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles Yellow Cupcake Mix with Creamy Vanilla Filling

Mistakes happen. For example, I think it was a mistake to use such a dopey name for the new Betty Crocker novelty cupcake mix. FUN-da-middles? I think I see what they’re trying to do here with the cupcake middles being filled with frosting and “Fundamental” being a word. But really Betty Crocker? FUN-da-middles? I… I just can’t.

I’m mature enough to admit when I’ve erred. Unfortunately, this tends to happen long after I’ve pulled twelve incorrectly-baked Betty Crocker Creamy Chocolate Filling FUN-da-middles cupcakes out of my oven and have realized that the trademark gooey center has pushed itself towards the edges of my bite-sized dessert and has made it into an entirely different snack food, one that doesn’t nearly resemble the dessert pictured on the box and isn’t at all FUN. So now, although I’d intended to write a review of two FUN-da-middles cupcake flavors, it’s now just going to be about one. The one I did correctly. My bad.

Baking doesn’t come naturally to me. Apparently, neither does following directions.

I have vivid memories of art classes in elementary school. There would come that moment after activity time, when each of our projects would be displayed on the wall or on the art table… and I would suddenly realize that my project looked different from everyone else’s. Circles that were supposed to be carefully constructed would be ovals. Five-point stars would have seven points. Photo collages would for some reason have drawings of dogs in them. Now I know why. With my mind already preoccupied with what I’d eat for lunch at school, plans to beat World 4 on Super Mario Bros 3 after school, and most likely, the Tiny Toons theme song, I barely listened to the teacher’s instructions and would oftentimes “wing it.” That’s what happened here with these Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles.

I’m not a fantastic baker to begin with. There are far too many variables at play for me to whip up something that looks like it came straight from the pages of Bon Appétit, In fact, my first batch of FUN-da-middles looked like something straight from the pages of Fangoria. And it’s all because I tried to be crafty and cheap and made up the rules as I went. Winging it. Bad idea.

Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles 3

Basically, when preparing the White Cake with Creamy Chocolate Filling FUN-da-middles, I switched out the oil and eggs in the recipe for diet soda. Usually, diet soda combined with cake mix makes a dense, crumbly cupcake that is low in fat. (Yay!) However, swapping in soda for this recipe was a mistake — the structural integrity of the cupcakes was compromised in a way that altered the entire batch. Here’s the way it’s supposed to work: You mix the batter and fill up each cup in the cupcake pan by one-third. Then, using the enclosed frosting packet, you squeeze little dollops of flavored frosting on top then cover with the remaining batter. After baking, the cupcakes should be fluffy and have a perfect, sweet, gooey center.

Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles 1

Not so for my cupcakes. My Creamy Chocolate Filling FUN-da-middles had a pudding-cake-like texture, very sticky. Not inedible, but definitely not what I wanted. I hadn’t realized that the chemical makeup of FUN-da-middles absolutely requires eggs and oil to make a stiffer cake, thereby creating a firm encasing for the gooey chocolate filling. So my cupcakes were more like FUN-da-OUTSIDES.

Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles 2

After kicking myself for about a day, I went back to the drawing board. This time, I baked the White Cake with Creamy Vanilla Filling FUN-da-middles. These looked more like your traditional Twinkie, and I figured if I actually followed the instructions this time, they’d taste like it. Actually, they tasted better than a Twinkie. The whole dozen came out much better than I had imagined, almost mirroring the picture on the box with nice golden outsides and white, gooey insides. Finally, the middles were FUN. Sort of.

Despite having to do a lot more measuring and clean up afterwards, thanks to cracked eggshells and oil drippings, I enjoyed the outcome. The cupcakes were dense but not oily, and the vanilla cream filling was light and sweet. These cupcakes were a little heavier and less squishier than my diet soda-induced, chocolate filling disaster.

So if you want to bake these cupcakes, don’t try to make up the rules as you go. You’ll end up with a real mess on your hands and all over the cupcake pan. I won’t lie, though…. While hard at work on my desserts, I still had the Tiny Toons theme song in my head.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/12 package – 120 calories (mix), 190 calories (as prepared), 2.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol,190 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein, 6% calcium, and 2% iron.)

Other Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles reviews:
Baking Bites

Item: Betty Crocker FUN-da-middles Yellow Cupcake Mix with Creamy Vanilla Filling
Price: $2.69
Size: 15.2 ounces / Makes 12 cupcakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: When prepared correctly, they had nice golden outsides and gooey insides. Following directions. Tiny Toons. Diet soda in regular boxed cake mix. Drawings of dogs in a photo collage.
Cons: Chocolate disasters. Diet soda in FUN-da-middles boxed cupcake mix. The fact that they’re called “FUN-da-middles.” Circles that are really ovals. World 4 in Super Mario Bros 3. Winging it while baking with an inflexible recipe.

REVIEW: Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper

Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper

I tried. I really tried. But, I think it’s impossible to overdose on whole grains. I picked up as many products with whole grains as I could, which were all over the place. No, seriously. If I were to piss blindfolded in a grocery store, it’s hard not to hit a product that has whole grains.

In one day, I ate a bowl of Froot Loops made with whole grain, consumed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with whole wheat bread, snacked on Tostitos tortilla chips made with whole grain, inhaled a plate of pasta with whole grain noodles, chomped on whole grain Wheat Thins and ate a hearty serving of Betty Crocker’s new Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper.

That’s easily 100 grams of whole grain, which is twice the recommended 48 grams of whole grain one should eat daily. Whatever happened to “too much of a good thing can be bad”? I’ve eaten enough prunes in one sitting to know the effects of having too much of a good thing. If it had been 100 grams of cocaine, I’d be dead, unless I was Keith Richards. With that many grams of whole grain, I though I would at least have hallucinations of grain fields or giant spiders trying to eat me.

You know what? Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I could’ve had more whole grains if I had brunch, linner, and Taco Bell’s Fourthmeal. That would’ve taken me to around 175 grams of whole grain. Or even better, I could’ve hung out near the feederhouse or cylinder of a combine grain harvester. I would’ve easily gotten 1,000 grams of whole grain. Or maybe I should’ve eaten the entire skillet I prepared of Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper, which would’ve given me 80 grams of whole grain.

Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper Closeup

Although, I don’t know whether I could eat the entire skillet, because Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper looks weird. It’s like staring at Renee Zellwegger without any makeup on or me with a drag queen’s-worth of makeup on. It looks unappetizing and drab, like something that would be served in a Siberian prison for kids.

I blame the bronzed 100 percent whole grain elbow macaroni for making this Whole Grain Hamburger Helper look weird, and for giving the dish a grainy texture. Although, the grainy texture was expected since the whole grain noodles I had earlier, during my attempt to OD on whole grains, had the same texture.

But it’s not only the bronzed elbow macaroni that brings this Hamburger Helper down, it’s also the cheesy sauce, which wasn’t very cheesy. Some bites I took didn’t have any cheese flavor, and instead all I could taste was the ground beef I added. If I just wanted to taste the ground beef, I would’ve made myself a hamburger without the helper.

The Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper may sound like a healthier Hamburger Helper, but there really isn’t anything healthier about it beyond the whole grain pasta. Okay, it also has 240 milligrams less sodium than regular Cheeseburger Macaroni Hamburger Helper, but it has the same amount of calories, saturated fat and trans fat as the regular version.

If you’re desperate to get whole grains, I guess it could be an option, but again, there are many other ways to get whole grains. To find out, just go to your favorite grocery store, blindfold yourself, pull down your pants, and pee.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cup prepared – 310 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 23 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% calcium, and 10% iron.)

Item: Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Whole Grain Hamburger Helper
Price: $2.29
Size: 4.8 ounces
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Easy to prepare. Provides 16 grams of whole grain per serving. Less sodium than regular Cheeseburger Macaroni Hamburger Helper. Cheap meal. Good source of protein. No artificial flavors or preservatives.
Cons: Looks like something that would be served in a Siberian prison for kids. Not very cheesy. Grainy texture of macaroni. Same amount of calories, saturated fat and trans fat as regular Cheeseburger Macaroni Hamburger Helper. Elbow macaroni looks like it’s been hanging out by the pool with George Hamilton. Eating too many prunes.

NEWS: Whole Grain Helper Doesn’t Help The Fact You’re Still Eating Hamburger Helper

Hamburger Helper CLASSIC Cheeseburger Macaroni

Betty Crocker Whole Grain Helper is kind of like spraying Lysol on poop. The Lysol makes the poop smell a little better, but deep down it’s still poop. While the whole grain pasta or rice in Whole Grain Helper gives us something nutritionists say we need, but deep down it’s still Hamburger Helper.

Now I’m not dissing Hamburger Helper, because Hamburger Helper saved my life. Without it I would’ve starved in college or resorted to stealing my college roommate’s food. But Hamburger Helper can get quite unhealthy and I don’t think adding whole grains will give it any wholesomeness.

Betty Crocker Whole Grain Helper comes in two hamburger varieties and two chicken varieties: Cheeseburger Macaroni, Stroganoff, Honey Mustard Chicken and Lemon & Herb Chicken. The Honey Mustard Chicken contains 100 percent whole grain rice, while the other three varieties contain 100 percent whole grain pasta.

Source: Betty Crocker website