REVIEW: Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix

Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix

You darn kids have it sooo easy!

Way back in the day, my sister and I had to a walk half a mile to the local IGA every so often just to buy ourselves some Chex Mix (uphill, both ways, naturally). Sure, that might not seem too daunting, but you must keep in mind that it was snowing or raining or hailing or sleeting or doing one of the other thousands of things precipitation is capable of doing in the Midwest approximately 89 percent of the time.

Also, in those days, we only had two options: cheddar or regular. That’s right. No barbecue, no honey crunch, no turtle shell, and no jalapeño cheddar blend. Even hot and spicy didn’t yet exist. Thank the Chex gods those dark days are over!

We always chose regular for the simple fact that the fine folks at Chex Mix lacked a Doritos-level grasp of the concept of sticky flavor powders. Here’s a hint, Chex: moisture is probably involved in the process.

Chex Mix was a specialty snack for us, fit for only one occasion: Saturday night Nickelodeon. SNICK. Do they still have that? I’m struggling to recall the original line-up. Ren & Stimpy and Are You Afraid of the Dark? were involved. That I’m sure of. It seemed like a repository for all the, at best, questionably appropriate Nickelodeon shows – a miasma of violence, fart jokes, rubber nipple salesmen, kitty litter, Canadian imports, and genuine terror. Truly, it was a thing of beauty.

We made a game of not eating during commercial breaks, which sounds boring, but as a seven year old, resisting the savory allure of Chex Mix for even three solid minutes proved challenging, especially when the whole bag was right there and my parents were all the way at the opposite end of the house watching PBS, completely out of supervisory range.

Times change, though. By the time I hit middle school, SNICK seemed to be rotting away into a non-offensive, semi-palatable mush. Clarissa finally explained it all. Amanda Bynes joined the cast of All That. The great northern imports disappeared entirely. Meanwhile, in the junk food world, Chex Mix blossomed into an array of just barely differing flavors. My approach, by and large, was to ignore all of it, rent old Ren & Stimpy tapes at the local video store until I destroyed them, and make my own flippin’ Chex mix. I was impossibly cool and alternative. Every so often, though, Chex would unveil a new variety capable of cracking my shell of teenage indifference, usually with sugary bits or new pretzel shapes.

Some things don’t change. I am still just that stupidly easy to sway. Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix manages to target two of my snack weaknesses with the inclusion of Lucky-Charms-like mini-marshmallows and large cinnamon bun pieces where the rye chips once stood. I couldn’t resist grabbing a bag. This particular mix also comes equipped with cocoa powdery corn Chex, vanilla yogurt rice Chex, and, for better or worse, the same old circle- and window-shaped pretzels which seem to exist nowhere outside the Chex universe.

Normally, the great thing about Chex Mix is, well, the mixing. No handful is complete without a metric ton of salty, spicy coating covering every piece, harmoniously joining a range of ultra-processed grains to create something far greater than the sum of their partially hydrogenated parts. This is the point where Cocoa Chex Mix begins to lose steam. Remember the cheesy Chex Mix from before? Well, even given *cough cough* years (sorry there, I seem to be getting choked up by the dryness of this snack), the fine people at Chex still haven’t quite figured out a way around the powder dilemma.

Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix Closeup

Every square inch of the mix, from the cinnamon buns to the window panes, comes coated in an ultra-fine layer of excess powder which from the cover picture I assume was only meant for the corn Chex. This powder isn’t especially sweet or exceptionally chocolatey. It’s basically just cocoa powder. The haphazard distribution of the stuff leaves the mix looking like something you’d dig out of the back of a couch, a relic of SNICKs past.

The cinnamon buns are tasty. The marshmallows, marshmallowy. But everything is so, so very dry. In theory, the yogurt rice Chex compensate for this. In practice, there are about five yogurt rice Chex pieces distributed throughout the bag, hopelessly lost in a barren wasteland of corn Chex hell-bent on sucking up all moisture and happiness in the world. If you’re lucky enough to scoop up a handful with one of the rare yogurty rice pieces, you’ll be amazed. Once you add those guys in, the mix truly begins to shine. But in all likelihood, particularly if you’re sharing the bag, you’ll never really experience the dazzling effect of the full flavor array. My advice to you in that case is to steal all the cinnamon buns while your Chex eating buddy isn’t looking. Insist that, like the rice Chex, the cinnamon buns were woefully scarce from the beginning.

As a treat for those determined enough to make it all the way to the bottom of the bag (or unobservant enough to open the bag upside-down), the marshmallows mimic the original Chex’s peanuts in their astonishing ability to cluster and sink to the bottom. They might look scant now, but just wait. Or shake the bag.

Actually, no. In order to experience the best this mix has to offer, just go buy a bag of marshmallows and some cocoa powder. Combine. Shake that. Voila! Cocoa for people who hate liquid! You can thank me later. Now get off my lawn. Blasted whipper snappers!

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 120 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Other Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix reviews:
The Talking Spoon

Item: Limited Edition Cocoa Chex Mix
Price: $2.49
Size: 12 ounces
Purchased at: Fry’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Cinnamon buns as delicious as they look in the picture. Early SNICK. Marshmallows are of the kids’ cereal ilk. Yogurt rice Chex are a revelation. Ren & Stimpy. Mix does not actually taste like it came from between two couch cushions.
Cons: Powdery dryness akin to licking salt flats in Death Valley. Contains no chocolate morsels, chips, or chunks. Not overtly sweet. Utter lack of rice chex kills the flavor dream. Are You Afraid of the Dark?-induced nightmares. Marshmallows woefully smaller than their Lucky Charms counterparts. Dumping the mix in milk in a desperate bid for moisture makes the pretzels soggy. The last few seasons of All That.

REVIEW: Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles

Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles

So you’re hosting a fall harvest barbecue with a backwoods gourmet theme heavily influence by your lack of funds and the fact that you ran over a wild animal on your way home from work last night. Frankly, this sounds a bit questionable, but lord knows, I’ve got no room to judge.

Anyway, the meal is shaping up to be a disaster (big shock there). With your first guests set to shuffle over from their neighboring trailers in about fifteen minutes, your found opossum entree still isn’t done (at least, it doesn’t look done – but I’m no opossum roasting expert) and your multi-layer Jell-O jiggler hors d’oeuvres aren’t setting nearly as fast as you’d hoped. You don’t have nearly enough time left to whip up your beloved cheese puff casserole! Whatever will you do for a side dish?

Well, lucky for you, you’ve got me, and a local Walmart. Simply send a significant other/friend/child out for some limited edition Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles and you’ll already be halfway to neighborhood acclaim. Seeing as you’ve prepared no other sides, I’d recommend, oh, roughly 1/3 bag per person.

“But Nichol,” I assume you’re asking, “I can’t just serve them bagged. That’s not gourmet! And the only bowl I have big enough for the five bags of chips you estimate I’ll need has snowmen and dancing Santas all over it!”

Holy crap! Chill out! I’ve got you covered. Quit interrupting.

Do you have construction paper? No? Well, quick – call the person you sent out for chips and have them pick some up. I’ll wait.

Okay? Okay. Now, what you want to do next is come up with an appropriate replacement theme for the bowl. You’ve already got the Fall thing going, so let’s work with that. Now’s the time to get creative. I recommend covering Frosty and St. Nick’s faces with lots and lots of paper leaves. If, however, you wish to take things a bit further, maybe shift forward a few weeks with your décor, you could also craft zombie parts for the Santas, so that they appear to be hunting down the poor snowmen, or vice versa.

In either case, that’s not a problem you’ve got on your hands so much as a fantastic crafting opportunity.

“But what about the chips themselves?” You now say because you’re just horribly whiny and out of sorts today. “What makes them classy? And shouldn’t I opt for more of a variety?”

First off, no. Just these. Don’t confuse your guests with five thousand similar looking lesser chip varieties. They deserve better.

Second, these chips happen to be a limited edition, fan-chosen, Walmart exclusive. If that’s not enough for your crowd of snobbish rednecks, tell them this: Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles are a one-of-a-kind treat, occupying a blurry middle ground somewhere between Funyuns and their comparatively mundane Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles cousins.

Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles Closeup

They are the mellow, potato chip equivalent to French’s French Fried Onions, by which I mean the oniony notes are vivid, sweet, and unmistakably Vidalia-like, and the chips taste very much deep fried in some batter you won’t recognize but will wish you could replicate. They offer just a hint of completely unnecessary brown sugar (which I assume is supposed to lend a caramelized taste) and subtle buttermilk undertones. The coating is light, sidestepping both the weird film Funyuns leave behind in one’s mouth and the heaviness one feels by one’s second or third handful of sour cream and onion chips.

The flavor pairs wonderfully with a nice peppery Saison. What? I lost you all there? Fine. These chips pair decently with any cheap beer devoid of fruity elements, wheat, and most other adjectives. Is that what you want to hear? Honestly, why do I even try with you?

Basically, if your guests enjoy onion rings, they will enjoy these chips. And if they are the kind of crowd that enjoys opossum, I’m just going to stereotypically assume they’re onion ring fans. Or at least fans of fried things, which is close enough.

Oh, and I should probably mention that the layers of flavor flatten out to nothing but semi-fake onion as you keep shoveling the Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles into your gullet. Make sure to periodically offer up more beer and opossum parts to avoid potential party-killing monotony.

Good Luck!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce/ about 11 chips- 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 200 milligrams of potassium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, 2 grams of protein, 0% vitamin A, 0% calcium, 8% Vitamin B6, 10% vitamin C, 4% thiamin, 2% phosphorous, 4% magnesium, and 2% iron.)

Item: Beer Battered Onion Rings Ruffles
Price: $2.98 (on sale)
Size: 9 ounces
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: No Funyuns film. DIY re-holiday-ification. Buttermilk. Jell-O hors d’oeuvres. Vidalia sweetness. Good addition to the existing faux-fried onion flavor family. Zombie Santas.
Cons: Found opossum entrees. Attempt at caramelized flavor lends a weird barbeque-like edge. Jell-O refusing to cooperate. Descends into an oniony borefest after a few minutes.

REVIEW: Land O’Lakes Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread

Land O'Lakes Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread

During college, one of my best friends developed a loaf-a-week cinnamon toast habit. It got to the point where she’d leave a softened stick of butter at the ready in the cabinet with the cups and bowls, and a dish of pre-mixed cinnamon sugar out on the kitchen counter the way some people seem to leave out plates of cocaine. When I first got wind of Land O’Lakes’ new Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread, I immediately thought of her, and wondered if the current residents of our old apartment ever question the inexplicable gritty texture of every surface in their kitchen.

I then also wondered if that poor kitchen still reeks of rotting potato, but that’s a whole other story which I’d rather not relive except to say: Always know the age and quantity of your stockpile of spuds, kids. The consequences of careless potato storage are dire and long lasting. Your friends may never visit again.

But enough with that PSA. Cue the little shooting star icon. Back to the sweet, sweet wonders of butter with bonus goodies.

My first experience with the concept came with homemade honey butter. I loved that shit as a kid. One day, in one of those bowls o’ condiments provided with the complimentary bread at some restaurant, I found a pre-combined version. Gleefully tearing into the little packet I discovered it to be full of disappointment. Bland, overly blended, and too heavy on the butter, it just wasn’t the melty sweet punch I’d fallen in love with. When the same kid, who tried to eat the fake toast in her Fisher Price kitchen years after it could be written off as an age-appropriate mistake, denounces your attempt at something as simple as honey butter, you know you have failed.

I like to envision foods like honey and butter existing perpetually as couples in hopelessly failing culinary marriages. They’d really like to stay together for their consumers, but to do that they need the help of a marriage counselor of sorts in form of some type of weird additive. Unfortunately, more often than not, either that additive is an awful counselor or they find they hate each other so much it ceases to matter, resulting in an inferior product. You can almost taste the contempt.

However, when you, the consumer, bring those same items together for just the brief time it takes to devour them, they sometimes magically rediscover what brought them together in the first place. It’s a child’s depressing little dream come true. For one brief moment they’re happy, nostalgic, and delicious. Everyone is laughing. If we were to give it five more minutes, maybe tack a prologue onto those credits, however, honey would inevitably bring up butter’s affair with apples, sending them back to square one. I worried that would be the case with the Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread – more fit for Lifetime than for the Disney Channel.

Luckily, as you probably noticed in the initial news blurb on this site, Land O’Lakes managed to keep the ingredient list short (and sweet), offering us a relatively simple amalgam of cream, sugar, canola oil, water, cinnamon, salt, and citric acid. What the tiny print on the back of the package reveals, however, is that this stuff is 19% canola oil – enough to cancel out any of the meager calcium benefits of regular butter consumption while creating a product that melts more smoothly and easily than the most genetically modified margarine commercially available today. It would seem that Land O’Lakes has attempted to achieve ingredient harmony by giving up completely and suspending everything in oil.

Land O'Lakes Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread Stuff Spreaded On

The spread itself has a color that’s almost similar to peanut butter. It also has a comparable texture when pulled right out of the refrigerator. Apply it to a room temperature item, though, and the canola oil kicks in. The butter instantly melts down to a spreadable level without being absorbed into the bread (or blueberry bagel or oatmeal cookie if you’re me and trying to be thorough with your sampling). Seriously, it’s like grabbing mercury. I hadn’t had butter that wasn’t in stick form in probably three or four years, so this completely astounded me. What wonders will they think of next? Wireless internet? Pre-sliced frozen pizza?? Individual Kool-Aid packets??? Baffling technology, the lot of it.

If you just eat a dab of the stuff, it’s almost like consuming pure cinnamon bark which has inexplicably melted. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as I expected. In fact, pretty much everything else plays second fiddle. The forgotten background butter flavor only really came through on the bagel. On the toast? So much non-stop cinnamon action! So little anything else. And the oatmeal raisin cookie? In hindsight, I should’ve cinna-buttered a snickerdoodle instead, for maximum redundancy. I will say this for the cookie, though: it was only the contender to tone down the borderline overwhelming cinnamon assault, and it did so with dazzling oatmeally bravado.

Luckily, I’m a cinnamon fan. Hell, I’m drinking Cinnabon coffee creamer right now. In my coffee. I haven’t broken down and started downing the stuff on its own. Yet. If you’re not a cinnamon fan, well, honestly, why would you buy this in the first place? Just know this stuff is for the hardcore cinnaficionados. You want cinnamon sugar butter spread? You can’t handle this spread!

Taken for what it is, the Land O’Lakes Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread is quite tasty, but it’s understandably a bit removed from the homemade version. I guess it all comes down to this: do you prefer your kitchen counters oily or gritty?

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Tbsp – 70 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 2% Vitamin A.)

Item: Land O’Lakes Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread
Price: $2.79
Size: 6.5 oz
Purchased at: Albertson’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Bursting with cinnamon. “The more you know” PSAs. Not held together by additive whack jobs. Wireless internet. Pre-sliced frozen pizza. Honey on butter. Gave me an excuse to butter a cookie. Oatmeally bravado. Great on bagels.
Cons: Easy to forget it’s technically a butter product. Honey butter packets of indeterminate age. Rotting potatoes. It’s mostly just canola oil. Might be too extreme for medium-core cinnamon enthusiasts. Reaching for a glass in the cabinet and grabbing butter. Sugar has almost completely bowed out of this marriage of convenience.

REVIEW: Freschetta Simply… Inspired Southern BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza

Freschetta Simply Inspired Southern BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza

Often it’s the little things that provide the greatest inspiration: the first autumn leaves swirling in the breeze, the laughter of children, the ethereal glow of crashing waves in the full moonlight, etc. And now, Freschetta hopes you’ll add BBQ chicken pizza to that list, along with the seven other new varieties not found at my local Target as of last week. That’s right folks – branch-clinging kitten poster levels of inspiration can be yours, instantly, for the low, low price of five dollars.

With it you’ll also get inordinate levels of pretension, free of charge. In my head, I’m pronouncing Target as Tar-zjay. That’s how pretentious I’ve become just a few hours after my discovery of the Simply… Inspired Pizzas, which supposedly feature larger and more prevalent toppings, a crispier crust and come in a more form-fitting box. This makes me instantly better than you by association. I feel like scoffing at the Red Baron and flippantly ignoring Wolfgang Puck as he calls to me from down the way. Digiorno? California Pizza Kitchen? Tombstone? Amateurs, the lot of them.

If I had to peg one element that truly elevates this pizza above those with cookies, dips, budget-rate price tags, and garlic crusts, I’d say… it’s the ellipses in the title. Hands down. As far as I can tell, nobody else in frozen food section has yet taken advantage of the grandeur and enticement of this rare bit of punctuation. In a world of keyboard bashing neurotics, the ellipses falls dangerously close to becoming the snootier, desperately more boring cousin of the interrobang. It hangs there mid-sentence as if to say, “Oh, sorry there. Didn’t mean to start off too overwhelmingly fast (for idiots like yourself). Let’s take a pause, shall we. And you know what? It might be time to skim over the really dull, academic bits. It’s the least I can do, really, without adding footnotes and visual aids.”

Inspired? Really? By all the other previously existing BBQ chicken pizzas you mean? What’s that? Oh, of course: you’re different. This apparently isn’t the California-born taste revolution you’ve naively fallen for. Oh no. This one’s a unique blend of “classic flavors of the south”, meaning the cilantro is almost non-existent and the “sweet and tangy” sauce pretty much tastes like KC Masterpiece.

Freschetta Simply Inspired Southern BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza Frozen

Peeling open the package initially reveals large white meat chicken chunks and thick cut onions, true to the pompous package promises. This gives me tragically high hopes, which immediately began to droop and melt away along with the pizza as soon as I toss it in the oven.

I sit on my kitchen floor in denial for the first few minutes, staring vacantly as the crust buckles and cheese drips into the abyss.

I followed directions! I normally don’t abandon the tray unless the particular line of pizzas has proven its structural integrity to me on numerous occasions in the past, but this time I threw caution to the wind and went by the book on my first go-round. This will certainly even out. Everything will be okay. It just has to. It’s such a pretty pizza!

I snap back to reality as the first beautiful chicken chunk tumbles to its crispy death between the grates. A rescue is in order. Preparing for battle, I grab two metal spatulas, a cookie sheet, an oven mitt, and a potholder. Brazenly and triumphantly flinging open the oven door yields a first good look at my apparent wax replica of a classic southern pizza. With one hand, I press the cookie sheet up against the bottom of the rack. With the other, I begin coaxing the pizza forward. At first the pizza merely responds with a resounding “fuck you” and refuses to budge. I burn my hand and retreat hastily, leaving the cookie sheet on the rack below the pizza to catch falling toppings.

Time to regroup.

For round two, I reinforce my tender digits using a larger, thicker potholder and the second, non-slotted spatula. This time the game plan is to pry as I coax. Pliability will be its downfall.

I ease the pizza forward ever so slowly, bending it to my will… and my spatula. Eventually it oozes over to the cookie sheet, like the creature in The Blob, only with crust.

Freschetta Simply Inspired Southern BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza Baked

Hot, sweaty, and battle scarred, I nonetheless emerge victorious. Once on the tray, the pizza magically loses its malleability and holds its abhorrent mutant shape. Amazingly nothing appears too burnt, aside from the scattered casualties on the floor of my oven.

With the dearth of cilantro, a hidden Midwestern side takes over, reminding me of mom’s grilled BBQ chicken, minus the frantic race to light the grill and complete cooking in 50 mile per hour gusting winds ahead of the weekly oncoming thunderstorm. What this thing really needs is a side of potato salad.

For all the hype, it’s a let down, but without all that it wouldn’t actually be too bad. The sauce is never too rich or overwhelming. The topping distribution is generally above par. For all the drama, the crust is surprisingly crisp and chewy. My only qualm is the cheese, which starts out decent then disintegrates and slides around a bit, nearing vegan cheese texture as it cools. This is most noticeable in places where the cheese is thickest. It was just weird. Not terrible, but a bit fake.

If you’re a BBQ chicken fan, you’ll find this difficult to hate, unless you burn yourself horribly as I did. But if you’re a tried and true BBQ Chicken pizza addict of the CPK ilk, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment by getting Inspired. Sorry.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/3 pizza – 360 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 820 milligrams of sodium, 200 milligrams of potassium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, 17 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 2% vitamin C, 25% calcium, and 10% iron)

Item: Freschetta Simply… Inspired Southern BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza
Price: 2 for $10
Size: 14.84 ounces
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like the Midwest. Gaining pretension like a super power. Thick, juicy chicken chunks. Interrobangs. Chewy, crispy thin crust. Footnotes. Visual aids. Inspiring kitten posters.
Cons: Undersized potholders. Cheese cools to oily faux-cheese texture. Screamingly pretentious, yet oh so unrefined. Similar to a crusty blob monster while cooking. Thunderstorm battle almost unwinnable with charcoal grill. Condescending ellipses.

REVIEW: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese and Creamy Mediterranean Herb)

Lay's Kettle Cooked Creamy Mediterranean Herb and Spicy Cayenne & Cheese

In recent years it’s as if Lay’s has decided test marketing is entirely too passé for them. Apparently, all the cool kids are now releasing regionally-specific products and quietly incorporating the best loved flavors into the national lineup over time. Besides, test marketing sounds so… iffy. It’s the difference between “Hey, try this… thing!” and “I made this just for you!”

Luckily, this practice has not yet been applied to their Kettle Cooked line. Both new flavors managed to make their way to my obscure, out-of-the-way location way out in the middle of everywhere. And thank God, because the Sandy Egg keeps getting lumped in with the general Southwest and receiving an annual truckload of rebranded nacho cheese chips. Really, Lay’s? Really? You had me at chile limón.

Please stop barraging me with malformed clones and crappy imitations. I will try them once, foist the remnants on unsuspecting party guests, and never ever touch this season’s abomination again, and you know this.

What’s that? One of the new Kettle Cooked flavors is Spicy Cayenne & Cheese (heretofore known as SCC)? Great. Thanks.

I choose to approach this bag still hoping for the best. Lay’s has trained me to automatically delight in Easy Mac powder and dried jalapenos delivered in bold new ratios. My expectations are low; my palate bored stupid.

Kettle cooked chips always feel more refined, somehow, than their counterparts. I don’t know why this is – they’re greasier, fatter, and far more prone to little oil bubbles. If they were people, I’d probably quietly avoid them. In chip form, though, they might as well come with little monocles and bow ties stamped on. They are the nouveau riche of chip empire, loyal to their potato roots, a little trashy, totally inept at blending in with the classics, but irresistible when dolled up in just the right bag. The rest of the snack aisle must hate them.

The newest additions to this Beverly Hillbillies-esque clan are Creamy Mediterranean Herb (CMH) and the aforementioned nacho cheese retread. Both are made with white cheddar and bonus goodies. CMH gets the buttermilk treatment, as well as oregano, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. SCC comes complete with a bit of a cayenne, but fewer overall frills.

Let’s dig in.

We might have a small problem on our hands, but don’t panic. Just answer me this: have any of you seen Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos around lately? Because I think I just found their flavorings scattered about in the wrong bags, red and green spicy flecks strewn this way and that, cheese powder spilling onto my jeans. Oh the humanity! While mildly horrified at this gruesome turn of events, being something of a psychopath myself, I do have to admit that the Kettle Cooked line of chips seem to wear their stolen coatings well.

Lay's Kettle Cooked Creamy Mediterranean Herb

The pre-dipped sour creaminess of CMH is quickly growing on me. The basil flavor is balcony-garden fresh and prominent in every bite. The buttermilk also manages to shine through, adding some ranchiness to the mix. The sun-dried tomato flecks, however? Purely aesthetic. CMH manages to toe the line between refreshing and dense. I find myself going back for a handful now and then, but this definitely isn’t one of the “oh no – oh dear god no – HOW IS THE BAG ALREADY EMPTY?” kind of flavors. I’m used to seeing this combination more in cracker form where backdrops of baked wheat and oats work in tandem with the creaminess to keep things from getting sickeningly heavy. It works here for awhile, but at a certain point, I hit a wall.

Lay's Kettle Cooked Spicy Cayenne & Cheese

SCC tastes vaguely similar to cheesy Sun Chips at first bite. The cayenne delivers a nice kick without sending me rushing for a glass of water. I’m powerless to say no to zesty cheese even after one hundred previous incarnations of varying quality have assailed my senses. These taste much lighter than their creamy herb buddies and many of the other Kettle Cooked varieties. The cheese hasn’t been overdone this time, and I think that’s the difference. It’s there, but it’s quiet, and it’s distinctly white cheddary, rather than whatever it is Kraft keeps cranking out. The nondescript “cheese” label does these guys a huge disservice. I might actually buy these again, provided I forget to eat before heading to the store.

All in all, a good showing from Lay’s. Both flavors make for interesting and tasty additions to the picnic table this summer, especially if your region lacks chile limón goodness. However, I do not recommend combining the two flavors and calling it a complete meal. That was a mistake.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce/16 chips – Creamy Mediterranean Herb – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2 grams polyunsaturated fat, 4 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 360 milligrams of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein. Spicy Cayenne and Cheese – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2 grams polyunsaturated fat, 4 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 350 milligrams of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese and Creamy Mediterranean Herb)
Price: $1.99 on sale (regularly $3.49)
Size: 8.5 ounces
Purchased at: Albertson’s
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Creamy Mediterranean Herb)
Pros: Tiny monocles. Basil explosions in my mouth. The light kick of cayenne. The subtlety of white cheddar. Chips made just for me. Chile limón. Picnics. The convenience of hungry party guests.
Cons: May or may not have murdered some Doritos for their flavors. More nacho cheese stereotyping for the Southwest. Creamy Mediterranean herb gets kind of dense and overwhelming after a few handfuls. Kettle cooked chips greasy, fat, and alienated from the cool kids. Spicy cayenne and cheese must compete with all the other clones for my attention.