REVIEW: Smart Ones Satisfying Selections (Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese and Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo)

Smart Ones Satisfying Selections Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese

You have me playing a dangerous game, dear readers. A dangerous game, indeed. Preparing these particular bagged, frozen meals in the office microwave is not a feat to be taken lightly. You know that of which I speak. The horrible, pungent odor of steamed broccoli is not the first thing hungry, cranky co-workers want to encounter while trying to salvage a few minutes of their lunch break in their soulless cubicles. What is the deal with this vegetable? Why does it stink so much? I hate to admit it, but maybe George H.W. Bush was onto something. The risk of committing a terrible olfactory crime is great when cooking these broccoli-laden meals. And I’ve had to do it twice. Good thing the meals themselves came out all right.

The Smart Ones Satisfying Selections line includes several hearty meals, including the delicious Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese and the decent Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo. The main question any curious shopper will ask is if the meals live up to the promise so boldly stated on the packaging: Are these selections satisfying?

These new Satisfying Selections do in fact come in larger portions than regular Smart Ones frozen entrees. For comparison’s sake, the Smart Ones Classic Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli & Chicken comes in a 9-ounce package, while the Satisfying Selections Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo tips the scales at 11.7 ounces. That’s a pretty good start.

Smart Ones Satisfying Selections Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese Closeup

The flavor of these two Satisfying Selections and their overall ability to satisfy my ravenous lunchtime hunger would be the real test. Good news for me, the Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese meal was actually pretty darn tasty. There was a lot of rice in the package, but the grains had a nice texture and didn’t come out glue-like and overdone. Also, the chunks of white meat chicken were plentiful and, thankfully, not slimy like chicken chunks tend to be in these types of meals. The broccoli was, well… like your typical broccoli, but astonishingly, the specially-designed microwave steamer packaging seemed to contain the offending aroma of cooked broccoli to the extent that I couldn’t smell a thing. Alas, I would escape the wrath of my murderous office associates and live to microwave lunch another day. Last but not least, the cheesiness of the Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese meal is very nice. It’s mixed with a light and creamy cheese sauce. Subtle, but delicious.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Alfredo sauce on the Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo. It’s sort of globbed on there, muting the peppery seasoning on the chicken breast. On the other hand, the broccoli is almost perfectly steamed, and the rotini pasta actually comes out al dente rather than limp and soggy. The Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo is a little blander than the Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese. Not its fault, of course. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, Alfredo sauce is involved in a perpetual uphill battle against plain old (delicious) cheese sauce. I say, there is a time and place for butter and a time and place for cheese, and right here, right now, dear readers, it’s cheese time.

So, it looks like my risk-taking did not go unrewarded. I was able to enjoy two lunches without creating a malodorous catastrophe in my office space, and yes, they were satisfying. Appetite-wise at least. My fellow drones couldn’t be happier.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 meal – Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese — 340 calories, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 2 grams of monounsaturated fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 730 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 31 grams of protein. Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo — 300 calories, 4 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0.5 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 1 grams of monounsaturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 660 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 28 grams of protein.)

Item: Smart Ones Satisfying Selections (Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese and Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo)
Price: $2.94 (on sale)
Size: 11.7 ounces
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Chicken with Broccoli & Cheese)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo)
Pros: Satisfyingly big portions. Cheese Time. Living to microwave lunch another day. Not having to eat anymore broccoli because you’re the goddamn President of the United States.
Cons: Globby Alfredo sauce. Tempting fate by cooking broccoli in an office full of ravenous cubicle jockeys. Broccoli stench. Eating lunch in the office.

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: Trident Layers Sweet Cherry + Island Lime Gum

Trident Layers Sweet Cherry + Island Lime

The first thing that occurred to me when I purchased my trim, little magenta-and-white package of Trident Layers Sweet Cherry and Island Lime sugar free gum is that it sounds like a 70’s-era grindhouse action duo. Sweet Cherry is the prostitute-turned-undercover-inner-city-vice-detective and Island Lime is her hard-hitting, trash-talking, crime-solving Rastafarian partner.

I should invent a secret time machine and become a 70’s Hollywood producer. I’d make millions….. MILLIONS!!! (But maybe not if I forget to adjust for inflation.) The second thing that occurred to me is that it looks like the lime is violently bisecting the cherry on the package. This gum will be rated R.

Trident Layers Sweet Cherry + Island Lime Closeup

The Sweet Cherry and Island Lime gum itself is shaped like a rectangular block. Upon first chew, you immediately taste a strong splash of artificial lime flavor. Not terrible, but a bit too strong. Then the cherry flavor comes in. It’s not as potent as the lime… definitely more understated. The cherry is a subtle low note to the lime’s sparking high note. Though I soon began to wish the lime would shut up.

Like other Trident Layers gum flavors, the taste disappears after only a couple minutes of vigorous chewing. I thought for a second that maybe I was chewing too hard, and then I remembered that this is America, and I will chew my gum as hard and as quickly as I damn well please. Nonetheless, I did attempt to chew another piece more slowly to see if the sweetness would stick around longer, but alas, it wasn’t enough to prolong the fruity sensation. If this were one of those old gum commercials where the blast of flavor was portrayed as a bitchin’ wave, I would’ve bottomed out on the ocean floor and shredded my face on a coral reef in seconds. Totally NOT tubular, dude.

Trident Layers Sweet Cherry + Island Lime Opened

Trident Layers Sweet Cherry and Island Lime gum is all right, but its flavor lacks longevity, and even if it did last longer, I probably wouldn’t like it because the artificial sweetness is too much. The overall flavor profile of cherry mixed with lime is that of a jaunty cocktail minus the alcohol (a mocktail), although I guess you could chew this gum immediately after downing a couple shots of straight vodka and really have yourself a drink. I’d imagine you’re saving that kind of thing for the weekend. Or for when Sweet Cherry and Island Lime’s Badasssssss Fruit Splash Song premieres in a theater near you, back in 1974. But perhaps I’ve said too much.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 stick – 5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of sugar.)

Item: Trident Layers Sweet Cherry + Island Lime Gum
Price: $0.99
Size: 14 pieces per pack
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: High notes of lime flavor accompany low notes of cherry very well. Exploitation cinema. Chewing your gum American-style. Mimics the flavor of jaunty, fruit-flavored mocktails. Time machines.
Cons: Artificial sweetness is overpowering. Flavor doesn’t last long. Mocktails. Wipe out, dude. Forgetting to adjust for inflation.

REVIEW: Hot Pockets Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake

Hot Pockets Limited EditionFour Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake

The longevity of Hot Pockets has hinged upon two things: 1) Their manufacturer’s ability to successfully stuff as many different things into a tender, seasoned crust as possible; and 2) Speedy microwave zap-ability. If either of these things changed for the worse, the Hot Pockets franchise would be deader than the skin on the roof of your mouth after biting into one too soon.

We’ve already seen the various styles of Hot Pocket crust filled with pizza toppings, deli meats, casseroles, meatballs, breakfast scrambles, taco/quesadilla fixings, and a plethora of hot sandwich combos (e.g. cheeseburger, sloppy joe, philly cheese steak, and barbecue chicken). Given this lengthy list of stuffed sandwiches, one may wonder, “Is there no limit to the ingredients they can stuff inside these crusts?” Trust me, there are limits. There are some things you would never want to see stuffed in a Hot Pocket: Bubblegum, iron ore, nothing but black olives, shoelaces, unshelled walnuts, Kleenex, eleven Habanero peppers, rubber cement, tripe… So barring these abominations, what other Hot Pocket flavor combinations could possibly tickle our taste buds? Mini penne in cheese sauce, that’s what.

Hot Pockets Limited EditionFour Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Outtards

We now have the Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Hot Pocket — a garlic-seasoned crust stuffed with pasta and cheese. It’s so ludicrously simple that I’m surprised Hot Pockets hasn’t tried to do this already. People tend to like pasta and people tend to like cheese. Pasta + Cheese + Crust = Yum. Never let it be said I didn’t excel at mathematics. Delicious mathematics.

As is the general rule within the Hot Pockets family, the Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake is simple to prepare 2 minutes in the microwave in its specially-designed cooking sleeve, and you have a molten-hot stuffed sandwich. In this case, melted cheese (four different ones!) began to ooze out of the sides of my Hot Pocket and burned my fingers (four different ways!), but I’m used to that. They’re not called Room-Temperature Pockets for a reason. Definitely wait a few minutes before chowing down.

Hot Pockets Limited EditionFour Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Penne

Upon first bite, you’ll quickly find that the garlic sauce and four cheese mixture has a nice, creamy, gooey texture, and the pasta has not become super-mushy. The crust is crisp around the edges and nicely seasoned you can really taste the garlic. I’d say the sensation is like a highly-advanced grilled cheese sandwich. The pieces of miniature penne are very small… You would almost forget they were in there if it weren’t for the fact that the Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Hot Pocket has a decent noodle/cheese ratio. But we’re not talking mouthfuls of penne. The only mouthful you have with the Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Hot Pocket is when you say its name.

I’m glad they introduced the Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Hot Pocket. It’s quick and tasty and fills a flavor niche I didn’t know existed. Since it’s Limited Edition, I don’t know how long this variety will be sold, but I hope it’s popular enough to persuade the Hot Pockets gods to let it stick around permanently… and will dissuade them from introducing Limited Edition 2-Ply Toilet Paper and Rocks Hot Pockets.

(Nutrition Facts 1 sandwich 290 calories, 10 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0 grams of monounsaturated fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 10 grams of protein, 2% vitamin A, 25% calcium, and 10% iron.)

Other Hot Pockets Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake reviews:
KJ’s Food Review

Item: Hot Pockets Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake
Price: $2.00 (on sale)
Size: 2 sandwiches
Purchased at: Ralphs
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Speedy microwave zap-ability. Warm, crispy garlic-seasoned crust. Highly-advanced grilled cheese sandwiches. Creamy and gooey garlic sauce/four cheese mixture. Decent noodle/cheese ratio. Mini penne is not mushy. Mathematics can be delicious.
Cons: Limited Edition only, so may not be around later. Not called Room-Temperature Pockets for a reason. Amount of pasta in the Limited Edition Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake Hot Pocket isn’t a mouthful, but the name is. Hot Pockets stuffed with toilet paper and rocks.

REVIEW: Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie Gum

Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie Gum

There were quite a few things in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that I wanted to experience for myself when I was a kid. Not the chocolate waterfall (that chocolate looked extremely thin and watery – not how I picture milk chocolate, mixed or not… and the fact that a nasty little boy fell in it with his shoes on made the idea of eating any of it repellant). Certainly not the Psychedelic Nightmare Tunnel (a chicken got its head cut off! ITS HEAD!!). Nope, I wanted to try Wonka’s experimental sweets… and one of the samples provided to the unsuspecting boys and girls on the factory tour was that magical stick of gum, the one that mimicked a three-course dinner. I was always really jealous of Violet when she selfishly stuffed the three-course meal gum in her maw and described each course in detail… that is, I was jealous until she changed into a giant blueberry. Not for me, thanks.

My point is that I no longer have to feel jealous, for Extra Dessert Delights has introduced their latest sugar-free addition, “Apple Pie” – and it tastes like apple pie. It’s been mentioned before on this site that these new dessert- and cocktail-flavored chewing gums are creeping ever closer to Willy Wonka territory with their magical simulations of actual food. It’s pretty neat.

But that isn’t to say it’s not eerie. Like Wonka himself, the idea is a bit… off.

When a couple of office pals and I sampled the gum, the consensus was that Dessert Delights Apple Pie was simultaneously gross and tasty; real-tasting and unnatural. I liked the gum a little better than they did, but we all agreed that cramming the intense flavor of apple pie into a stick of gum was bizarre. Did someone really think that it would be an adequate substitute for real apple pie? On the go, sure it’s fine… but I certainly wouldn’t want to find myself at a friend’s picnic, longing for dessert, only to be handed a stick of sugar-free gum. I’d kick my friend in the ass for pulling a stunt like that. But I digress.

Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie Gum Stick

The gum is light green, which would make you think of mint-flavored gum if it weren’t for the overpowering aroma of cinnamon and (…dare I say it? Yes, I dare…) buttery crust. I could smell that long before I could smell the slight scent of apples. Once I started chewing, the flavor exploded into a complex combination of Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, and sugar. It was definitely apple pie.

Unfortunately, the Apple Pie gum began to lose its softness and flavor rather quickly. I’m talking within seconds. It became tacky and stiff the longer I chewed, and the taste of apples and spices soon dissolved into a generic, artificial-apple-tinged sweetness that was just “blah.” I was disappointed that the flavor pretty much vanished altogether after just a few minutes of chewing.

Despite this, I guess it’s nice to have a pack around for a quick chew if you’re in the mood for something sweet at work or school and don’t want to visit the vending machine for one of those trans-fat-tastic packaged apple fritter pastry thingies — you know, the ones with the waxy glaze that makes the plastic all shiny and oily. Why eat something like that and have it clog your arteries when you can get a similar flavor in a stick of gum that you can spit out after? Choices, people.

Like nearly every one of these flavored dessert gums, Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie had a strong start and a weak finish. Though I held out much longer than my coworkers, I definitely reached the end of the line on that flavor train. At least I didn’t turn into a giant green apple. Sure, I’d be able to leave work early, but I don’t think I could fit in my car.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 stick – 5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, 2 grams of sugar alcohol and 0 grams of protein.)

Other Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie Gum reviews:
Gum Alert
TV & Gum Are Awesome
The Smart Cookie Cook

Item: Extra Dessert Delights Apple Pie Gum
Price: $0.99
Size: 15 sticks per pack
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: A fun new addition to Extra Dessert Delights variety. Approximates the flavor of apples, cinnamon and buttery crust rather well for a stick of gum. Nice alternative to greasy apple pie fritters in the vending machine. Leaving work early because you turned into a giant piece of fruit.
Cons: Flavor doesn’t last very long. Watching chickens get their heads chopped off. Cramming the flavor of apple pie into a stick of gum is bizarre. Suffering a total body transformation on an all-expenses-paid factory tour as punishment for your selfishness and greed.