REVIEW: White Chocolate Strawberry Shake M&M’s

I must admit that my relationship with these new White Chocolate Strawberry Shake M&M’s – whose rosy, heart-filled packaging seems tailor-made for Valentine’s Day – began with a bit of a shock. In my state of simultaneous and equally intense hunger and excitement, I may have forgotten to actually look closely at the bag, which clearly shows the three M&M colors that less impatient consumers can expect, before ripping it open. So I was baffled to see a sea of green in addition to the more strawberry-centric reds and pinks.

Of course, I’d already spent a not-insignificant portion of my own green to secure this bag (this flavor doesn’t seem to be widely available yet, so in my eagerness to review, I purchased – and, sure, overpaid for – these from a third-party seller on Walmart.com), so a little confusing coloration wasn’t going to deter me. Plus, I guess you could argue that the green represents the stem of the strawberry? Alternatively, maybe it was just an excuse to get that glamorous green M&M mascot on the packaging, and that’s fair!

Anyway, the aforementioned frenzied bag tearing released a welcome cloud of sweet smells into my room, appropriately strawberry-y but with a strongly saccharine underlying note that seemed ever so slightly artificial, a tell-tale sign of white chocolate’s presence. I reached into the generously filled bag to start my taste test and was immediately amused that the size and shape seemed to vary for each individual piece, from “normal M&M that just put on some weight during the holidays” to “Noticeably Larger and Chunkier” to “DOWNRIGHT SPHERICAL.”

So, how do these sometimes mysteriously colored, pleasantly fragrant, and appealingly rotund M&M’s actually taste? Anyone fearing that the “White Chocolate Strawberry Milkshake” name was just a ploy to re-release an old flavor under a fresher title (2016’s White Strawberry Shortcake might come to mind) can rest assured that they actually live up to the moniker quite well.

The “milkshake” element promises a creaminess that is certainly delivered, with the white chocolate providing a lovely, rich, just-short-of-being-too-sweet base for the strawberry flavor, a mellow, floral fruitiness that is identifiable but not overpowering. Sure, this means that the general taste skews a tad more milkshake than it does strawberry, but with my (some might say controversial) love of white chocolate, that wasn’t a problem for me. I can see others begging to differ, but hey, we’re here on a blog that reviews junk food, not fruit! I particularly enjoyed the texture too – you know that oddly satisfying snap when you break through an M&M’s candy shell and sink your teeth into the smooth, rich chocolate within? Since these are so hefty, that moment is gloriously amplified.

The recommended serving size is 16 pieces, and if all my praise-singing thus far isn’t enough of a testament to how tasty they are, I should also let you know that in the course of reviewing I consumed significantly more than that without even realizing. Pringles talks a big game with its “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” but I think these are addictive enough to merit their own rhymey slogan too. “Once you M&M, you won’t condemn”? … Okay, it’s a work in progress. One I won’t mind brainstorming over just a few more handfuls!

Purchased Price: $6.25
Size: 7.44 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart.com
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (16 pieces) 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich

Wendy s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich Whole

Wendy’s is typically not the fast food place that comes to mind when I think of Italian food, but with its new Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich, it must be trying to change that. I was pleasantly surprised by its heft. That’s because it consists of essentially two patties – the to-be-expected breaded chicken breast and a circular slab of fried mozzarella that is just as substantial as the meat. A slathering of marinara coats the top of the fried mozzarella, while clinging to its bottom is an additional slice of cheese (Asiago, to quote Wendy’s website, though mine was so melted that I assumed it was just surplus mozzarella oozing out from the fried hunk, and its taste didn’t do anything to make me question that assumption). Of course, there’s the bread, which, thanks again to the site, I know to describe as a “garlic knot bun.”

Wendy s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich Bun

Unfortunately, that bun did not work for me. Flecked with ambiguous dark splotches and appearing a little jaundiced, it read more “multigrain” than “garlic.” Of course, we’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, so I was willing to put my preconceived notions aside… until one bite showed me that my preconceived notions were a lot kinder than my post-conceived ones. The bun tasted stale and had an unpleasant gritty texture; the outside was as dry and flaky as it looked, and the inside was disappointingly airy. It felt like eating cardboard and tasted like, well, eating seasoned cardboard.

Wendy s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich Sauce

Tackling this sandwich from the top down brings me to some more bad news -– the sauce, about which my first thought was, “Did they accidentally give me buffalo sauce?” It was simply nothing like the rich, tomatoey red sauce I know, love, and was (quite reasonably!) expecting. This was something much harsher, tangy and vinegary, and plain weird. At least there wasn’t THAT much of it.

Wendy s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich Mozz Patty

Thankfully, I can take off my Debbie Downer hat to talk about the fried mozzarella. The cheese was mild and melty, and while I must admit it had a strange, slightly sour aftertaste, since this is fried mozzarella, I must also add plenty of points for the perfect crunch with which the crisp breading gave way to the satisfyingly soft, luscious center.

Wendy s Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich Chicken

The chicken gets a rave review from me as well. Joyously juicy, thoroughly thick, and fully flavorful, it looked, tasted, and felt like a giant chicken nugget, and I consider that to be a massive compliment.

Taking into consideration all the ingredients together, chowing down on this tall tower of meat and mozzarella felt pretty epic, mostly because the tastes of the chicken and cheese held their own admirably against the less lovely elements. There’s a lot going on with this sandwich, and I wish that all of it was equally good, but with the bummer bun and sad sauce, it’s only the hearty fillings that win my chomp of approval.

But then I thought that maybe this would be better eaten like a high school cafeteria chicken parmesan, ditching the bun and digging into chicken patty topped with the fried mozzarella and a smattering of sauce with a fork and knife. But then I realized that even a smattering of sauce would still be too unappealing. Maybe next time I’ll just order nuggets, find some other takeout joint offering a side of mozzarella sticks, and mash them together in peace. Maybe you should too.

Purchased Price: $7.19
Size: N/A
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 780 calories, 31 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 105 milligrams of cholesterol, 2310 milligrams of sodium, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 45 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Pepperoni Crusted Papadia

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Top

If you’re not hip to the lingo, Papa John’s defines its Papadia as “a delicious pizza sandwich calzone combo.” Previous Papadia flavors, featuring stalwarts like Philly cheesesteak and Italian meats, were pretty squarely on the “sandwich” side of the spectrum. But there’s no question which of those three words the new Pepperoni Crusted variety most evokes.

You may be able to tell that this is not my first Papadia rodeo, but it is the first time I can remember distinctly thinking, “Wait… isn’t this literally just a personal pizza folded in half and with extra pepperoni added to the outside?” It’s also possible that I’m more observant than usual today on account of being three cups of coffee deep and so highly caffeinated that I’m hearing colors. But in any case, any potential pretense that you might be eating something healthier than you actually are is out the window with this one.

Sure, it doesn’t look THAT much different than the previous Papadias, but somehow, seeing that familiar exterior festooned with pepperonis so red and round they’re nigh cartoonish just makes the same triangular shape, smattering of parmesan, and rounded crust-like edge scream “PIZZA!” so much louder.

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Split

You probably already have a good idea of what this tastes like just by looking at it. The crust is buttery, the cheese mild, and the pepperoni zesty (plus there’s a side of Papa John’s signature sweet sauce if you feel like making a dish that’s advertised for its portability slightly less convenient to eat on the go). All of those flavors are wonderful, but they’re not really what I want to focus on, because to me, what’s just as, if not more, important for a pizza or pizza-adjacent product is its texture. I want my crust chewy, my cheese dense, and my pepperoni tough enough for a primitively satisfying give when I tear into it. How does this Papadia live up to those super-specific standards? Well, I am not exaggerating when I say that that first bite was a near-religious experience (though again, that might just be the three-times-my-usual-caffeine-intake talking).

As a native New Yorker, I’m used to folding a slice of pizza before I eat it, and I hope this delicious Papadia officially validates that behavior for all the out-of-town friends who’ve made fun of me for it. Because, like I said, a folded pizza is basically what this Papadia is and that improves the experience tenfold (yes, emphasis on the “fold”).

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Flip

To test this assertion, I took a small bite of my Papadia after I’d opened it up, and it just didn’t hit the same way. Perhaps the crust was a bit thinner and the layer of cheese and toppings a bit thicker than I’d usually expect from Papa John’s, but the dissected Papadia still didn’t feel like anything extraordinary. There’s just something about biting into those two thick layers while they’re squished up against each other and masterfully enveloped by a crisp bready crunch on either side that’s so gratifying that I can barely put it into words, even as someone who is literally paid to put food into words. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because that means that in order to really understand the magic of the Pepperoni Crusted Papadia, you’ll just have to try one yourself.

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Box

Purchased Price: $7.99
Size: n/a
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 1080 calories, 61 grams of fat, 29 grams of saturated fat, 2710 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, and 50 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive

Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive Can

This review started with seven simple words, texted by my partner as he checked our mail: “Hey, did you order an exclusive Dew?”

I hadn’t… but my confusion quickly gave way to unadulterated joy. A month or so prior, I’d tracked down all three of Summer 2022’s Baja flavors — the OG and its new and surprisingly-elusive-in-my-neck-of-the-woods friends Baja Mango Gem and Baja Gold — diligently plugged the codes on their caps into Mountain Dew’s website for a stab at the Lost Treasures of Baja Island sweepstakes, and then summarily forgotten all about it… until I returned home triumphant to a coveted six-pack of my Baja Deep Dive winnings!

Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive Box

Sure, it sounds a little less impressive when I specify that I’m a mere one of 18,000 beverage buffs who got lucky this time around, but still, free, surprise, only-available-from-a-contest Mountain Dew straight to one’s doorstep is nothing to scoff at!

Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive Glass

I eagerly cracked open a tall, spiffy dark purple can of this subnautical nectar, which is decorated with what seems to be an artist’s interpretation of what normal fish would mutate into if oceans were made of Mountain Dew. A poison-dart-frog-bright, slightly bluish green (appropriately, one could even call it “sea green”) liquid whose hue I can best describe as “Yep, that sure is Mountain Dew-colored” pulsed out.

The perplexing potion smelled deliciously — and aggressively — fruity, candy-like even, but not in a way that I could immediately attribute to any particular flavor. If you’re familiar with Mountain Dew, such sugar-soaked ambiguity is probably not surprising. It is probably also not surprising when I report that this aquatic libation tastes… pretty much how just it smells. It’s violently sweet and heavily reminiscent of its citrus-y, mango-y, pineapple-y Baja brethren, but with a strange aftertaste that, bizarrely, reminded me of cucumber. A thorough sweep of the pleasantly active Mountain Dew community on Reddit suggests that I may literally be the only person in the world who thought that. Neat!

Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive Descript

Oh yeah, did I mention this is a mystery flavor? As of late I’ve been on an equally amused and bemused quest to try as many flavors of Dew as possible, but nevertheless, I haven’t yet developed the skill of actually being able to differentiate between them very well. So, when it came to cracking this maritime mystery, I was a bit lost at sea.

Mtn Dew Baja Deep Dive Graphics

A deep dive into, well, Deep Dive produced a few hints that were as well-buried as a hidden treasure. Notably, there is a diver on the can whose mask looks like a pineapple, but that was about all I could fish up on my lonesome. (The can also prominently features, among other things, an eel, an anglerfish, and what appears to be a sentient grenade with a narwhal horn, so I hope those aren’t also clues about the ingredients at play here!)

Fortunately, the trusty True Dew-ers of the internet have also unearthed the tantalizing tidbit that the font used on this can is the same as on the dearly departed Mountain Dew Pitch Black, which was grape flavored. Come to think of it, aren’t sea grapes a thing? If that somehow ends up being this flavor’s secret identity, Team Mountain Dew deserves a hearty tip of my pirate’s hat (but maybe also an eye roll).

All in all, the allure of this oceanic new edition, just like the allure of any Mountain Dew, is both difficult to describe and difficult to deny.

Purchased Price: Free as a sweepstakes prize
Size: 16 oz cans
Purchased at: n/a, only available to winners of the Lost Treasures of Baja Island sweepstakes
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 can) 220 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 65 milligrams of sodium, 59 grams of carbohydrates, 59 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 72 milligrams of caffeine.

REVIEW: Pizza Hut Oven-Baked Pastas

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas All Four

As four distinct variants that nonetheless have many key characteristics in common, I like to think of Pizza Hut’s new line of Oven-Baked Pastas as quadruplets. Each flavor has a unique personality, but they share two crucial features, perfectly smooth penne pasta and a top layer of thick, baked-ziti-esque cheese. Two are adorned with Alfredo sauce, two don a sweet red sauce, and all four are delicious in their own ways. Serving size-wise, one order of any of these pastas would make a good meal for one person – maybe even with leftovers if all that cheese is too much for you! – but the portion is so filling that I can definitely see it as a shareable appetizer/side/snack too.

Cheesy Alfredo

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Cheesy Alfredo

I worried this might pale in comparison to the chickened version; it turns out I needn’t have. This pasta was swimming in a gooey, creamy, downright decadent copious sea of sauce so bright white it looked positively pristine. (Though I am slightly confused how such a wonderful garlicky flavor could come from something whose handy-dandy online ingredients list only notes garlic under “Contains less than 2% of the following.”) Our friends at Pizza Hut were not kidding when they dubbed this one “cheesy,” and I’d say swapping meat for all that extra dairy is a worthy tradeoff.

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Cheesy Alfredo Closeup

Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 order) 880 calories, 48 grams of fat, 31 grams of saturated fat, 1,180 milligrams of sodium, 84 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, and 30 grams of protein.

Chicken Alfredo

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Chicken Alfredo

If anything, the poultry felt paltry compared to its queso’d cousin. I described the cheesy Alfredo sauce as “gooey,” but the same can’t be said here, with the sauce relegated from main attraction to mere sidekick. The ostensible star of the show, that chicken, packs a hefty herbal aftertaste that I couldn’t immediately put a finger on, but apparently is courtesy of dried parsley. However, its distribution in my batch was sort of spotty —- some bites came with a dime-sized dollop, some with more like a silver dollar, and most with no chicken at all.

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Chicken Alfredo Closeup

Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 order) 930 calories, 49 grams of fat, 32 grams of saturated fat, 1,340 milligrams of sodium, 85 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, and 37 grams of protein.

Italian Meats

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Italian Meats

The main meat in mind is sausage, and Pizza Hut’s offering is a perfect fast food specimen; chunky, juicy, zesty, and abnormally (like, almost scarily) tender. Because this is Italian meats, not Italian meat, I should also mention the presence of pepperoni. But, hidden directly under the cheesy coating, it was pretty handily obscured both visually and taste-wise. I also need to take a moment to appreciate the sweet red sauce, so pleasantly mild and yet so simply tasty that it felt like a hug for my mouth. I usually find pasta with red sauce a little boring, but this was more than enough to hold my interest.

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Italian Meats Closeup

Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 order) 860 calories, 37 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 1,640 milligrams of sodium, 97 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar, and 36 grams of protein.

Veggie

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Veggie

I liked this one more than I expected. I mean, not more than I liked any of the others, but still! The toppings were kind of random (sure, green bell pepper, black olives, and “diced Roma tomato” are pretty normal to find in a pasta separately, but all of them at once?), yet they mingled well. That gently sweet sauce and rich cheese were perked up by the refreshing pepper, which also provided a texturally delightful snap, while the tomato offered a surprisingly intense and unsurprisingly delicious burst of flavor, and the olives… well, I could have done without them, but their flavor was subtler and less briny than I typically fear, and I must give them credit for adding some nice umami undertones.

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Veggie Closeup

Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 order) 640 calories, 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1,170 milligrams of sodium, 99 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.

Pizza Hut Oven Baked Pastas Breadsticks

If you’re still not convinced to give one — or all! — of these a try, I should also mention that each comes with an order of breadsticks. Yes, that means that in the course of writing this review, I acquired twenty breadsticks, so if you need me, I’ll be busy trying not to devour them all in one sitting.

Purchased Price: $8.99 each