REVIEW: Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts

Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts

Anyone else feel like their teeth are going to fall out when they eat a caramel apple?

The hardened caramel should seriously be considered on the list of dental no-no’s right up there next to chewing ice (I’m guilty). So, for the most part, I avoid caramel apples. But, Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts bring all the joy of Caramel Apples but in toaster pastry form.

Sort of.

Out of the trusty shiny packaging, a corner of the pale toaster pastry tumbled out typical Pop-Tart crumbliness. No immediate artificial/pungent odor tumbled out with the crumble though, which is always a good sign! I took a closer nose-pection of the goods. It smelled just like Tootsie’s Caramel Apple Pops.

Luckily, I have a pretty positive association with Apple Pops but it’s a little odd that a toast pastry smells like a candy. The Pop-Tart itself looks like a regular Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart but with a neon green squiggle down the middle and neon is never a good color for food.

For a Pop-Tart, the flavor progression is surprisingly complex. The first bite was all apple flavoring. Think Hostess Apple Fruit Pie but with a better crust to filling ratio (aka the filling isn’t gooping everywhere). The apple flavoring was followed by a warm maple, caramel sweetness. This pushed it over the edge of sweetness for me, but right at that point a sour apple tartness emerged.

Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts 3

After the first couple of bites, I looked more closely at the filling. It looked like half & half filling with a darker half and a lighter half so I tried each half as separately as I could. The lighter half was the apple part of the filling and tasted pretty standard. The darker half contributed the warmer maple, caramel flavor as well as the tartness. Kellogg’s R&D definitely tried to go above and beyond for this one.

Limited Edition Frosted Caramel Apple Pop-Tarts 2

Somewhat dissatisfied, I put these babies in the toaster oven for a quick toast. After warming it up, I found it odd that the edges weren’t a more golden brown color like other warmed pop-tarts. Typically, Pop-Tarts taste best warm, but not this flavor. While the apple, maple and tartness meshed a little better together, the sour apple after-taste became even more prominent and made it taste even more like the lollipop candy.

These should be renamed Caramel Apple Pops Pop-Tarts. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Kellogg’s did not bring this Limited Edition flavor back. Long live Pumpkin!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pastry – 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 180 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12 pastries/box
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: R&D put in work – tried to replicate a Caramel Apple as closely as possible.
Cons: Tastes just like Caramel Apple Tootsie Pops. Too sweet. Why doesn’t it toast?!

REVIEW: Starbucks Chile Mocha

Starbucks Chile Mocha

Some like it HOT and I am one of those humans.

No, I’m not talking about the 1950’s movie starring Marilyn Monroe, but the Scoville scale. Just in case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about: the Scoville scale measures the heat of a pepper from 0 units (bell peppers) to 16MM units (pure capsaicin). I can realistically only handle up to a habanero (350K units) so I’ve been on a mission to increase my capsaicin tolerance.

Along comes Starbucks’ latest drink innovation, the Chile Mocha. I drink Starbucks religiously (who else spent way too much money on Starbucks for Life) and I like heat. Advertised with “ancho and chile spices” and “for those mornings that need an extra kick,” I expected the Chile Mocha to dazzle my taste buds.

In true Goldilocks-fashion, I had to try all three: the Frappuccino, the hot mocha, and the iced mocha. Unfortunately, the only thing consistent about the three was that they all came with too much whipped cream.

I started with the Frappuccino. Nothing about the Frappuccino tasted like chile or even mocha for that matter. It was so sickeningly sweet that it tasted toffee-like; maybe the barista used the toffee nut syrup instead of Chile Mocha powder. So, heat was nonexistent. I even tried the Spiced Mocha topping on top which looked like straight cayenne/paprika but actually also had sugar crystals mixed in.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 2

The powder fondly reminded me of a less concentrated version of Lucas Mexican Candy. However, cayenne is only 50,000 Scoville and paprika is, if you’re lucky, maybe 100 Scoville units. Instead of ordering the Chile Mocha Frappuccino, I might as well have just ordered a plain ol’ coffee frap for $1 less and 90 less calories.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 3

I moved onto the iced mocha next. I was immediately a little off-put by the powder sitting at the bottom of the drink. I tried mixing it but the powder at the bottom was just out of straw reach. After my first couple of sips, I felt a very slight warming/heat sensation in the back of my throat. FINALLY!

However, it was short-lived as it quickly neutralized. While the iced mocha was a little more coffee-forward, it still erred on the too-sweet side. Disappointed, I proceeded to eat the whipped cream with tasty wannabe Lucas Mexican Candy power and left the rest of the drink.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 4

Lastly, the hot mocha. At this point, my high expectations were demolished. But, the fact that my first sip actually tasted like a mocha was a great start. Unlike the iced mocha, the heat actually built up. At first, I thought it was way too subtle but as I drank more, I concluded that this level of heat probably works for people not trying to burn off their taste buds (unlike me). If it were any spicier, it would likely be too spicy for some folks. I also really enjoyed the temperature contrast of the cold whipped cream with the hot mocha.

Net-net, stick with the hot mocha. I know it’s still 90 degrees in certain parts of the country, but fall is right around the corner! For my fellow capsaicin enthusiasts, I’m dropping a Ghost Pepper Mocha suggestion in Starbucks’ inbox.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall 12 oz (Hot Chile Mocha with whipped cream) – 270 Calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 29 grams total sugars, 10 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: Varies
Size: Tall
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Chile Mocha)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Iced Chile Mocha)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Chile Mocha Frappuccino)
Pros: Fondly reminiscent of Lucas Mexican Candy Power. Hot Chile Mocha.
Cons: Too much whipped cream. Frappuccino and Iced Mocha are sugar bombs. Minimal heat.

REVIEW: Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns

Ahhh, the hash brown – a breakfast favorite since the 1890s.

So, who dare mess with this American staple? Even McDonald’s didn’t dare to. Ronald cut hash browns into its recognizable rounded-corner rectangle shape but left the shredded spud relatively true to its roots. But, oh ho ho, in comes Jimmy Dean! While Jimmy Dean does have some breakfast cred, the hash browns heritage deserves so much better than Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns.

They had so much potential. They remind me of Hot Pockets but with a better carb casing: hash brown > some enriched flour pocket. Like Hot Pockets, Jimmy Dean’s Stuffed Hash Browns are efficient; instead of having all your breakfast components separate, it’s all packaged into one neat potatoey vehicle. Alas, efficiency doesn’t always equate to best tasting.

Of the three flavors – Sausage & Cheese, Meat Lover’s, and Bacon & Veggies – I go for Meat Lover’s for more bang for my buck. From the frozen outside, there is no indication of what the insides are like. It just looks like a really thick McDonald’s hash brown. There are also random pieces of shredded potato pieces as if Jimmy Dean strategically placed them to create the illusion of real potato in the potato mush. Nice try.

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns 2

The prep process is really easy and Hot Pocket-like – place it into its shiny sleeve and microwave for two minutes. I wanted it extra crispy so, per the instructions, I impatiently waited an extra five minutes. It looks the same frozen and heated – maybe a smidge more golden.

Unfortunately, the warm Stuffed Hash Browns also starts to ooze oil from its deep-fried visage. This leads to a greasy mouthfeel and greasy residue on my fingers. The grease on grease on grease is kind of like what you’d expect from fried chicken. Except you expect that amount of oil from fried chicken, not from a hash brown brick.

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns 3

To Jimmy Dean’s credit, the insides are stuffed. But, it all tastes the same – salty and porky. I expect some textural difference between bacon, sausage and ham, but nope, it’s just mush. I can also see the gooey cheese but I somehow can’t taste the mozzarella or cheddar until about half-way through. Moar cheez, plz.

The crispy potato outside definitely helps with texture. The outside is by no means fresh-outta-the-deep-fryer crispy but at least it isn’t just baby food mush. I also appreciate that the insides aren’t scalding hot like the insides of Hot Pockets. Thank you for not burning my taste buds off, Jimmy Dean!

On that disappointing note, I also learned that the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” saying was coined by a marketer trying to sell more cereal. Our breakfast-centric lives are a lie and so are Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Piece – 260 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 820 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: 4 stuffed hash browns
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Like a Hot Pocket with a better casing. One neat hash brown vehicle for breakfast. Crispy-ish hash brown.
Cons: Efficiency ? Better Tasting. Oozing oil. Grease on grease on grease. Salty and porky – all the same mush. Moar cheez, plz.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad

Why do we put fruit in our salad?

It’s always such a gamble. Either the combination of the salty dressing and sweet fruit tastes weird or the fruit itself is on its last soggy leg because it’s not fresh enough to eat on its own. If I have a choice, I usually go for the salad with the least fruit and the most bacon. Although Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad has fruit and no bacon, I’m thoroughly impressed with it.

I never jump fork first into a fruit-filled salad because I’m paranoid of: a) bad, edges-are-fraying-black lettuce b) worms in my berries. Please don’t ask me about either traumatizing experience; it’s not too far from what you’re imagining.

So, I examined the Summer Berry Chicken Salad for acceptable freshness. Per Wendy’s marketing collateral, the lettuce is chopped in-house daily and there are 11 different greens – not just iceberg lettuce. In real life, the “11 different greens” just sit on top of the iceberg lettuce. But, to Wendy’s credit, the salad does seem fresh – no pink oxidization or rotting lettuce.

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad 3

Then, I examined each strawberry slice and blackberry very closely for worms, mold or general sogginess. Surprisingly, none of the three ew-factors were in sight. I almost believe it when Wendy’s says the berries are “fresh, hand-picked.” If you’re wondering how long it took me to examine the berries, there really weren’t that many berries – a few strawberry slices and two blackberries at MOST. I did order the half-size salad, so I half-sized my expectations accordingly. Also, I’d rather have quality over quantity.

In between the greens and berries were the feta cheese crumbles and chicken pieces. I was pleasantly surprised that the chicken was warm. The smell of chicken was a little overwhelming, but the warmth was a nice contrast to the cold salad. The feta cheese crumbles were fine on their own but magical with the Marzetti Simply Dressed Light Blackberry Vinaigrette. The feta added a creaminess to the tangy and sweet vinaigrette. Speaking of the vinaigrette, I was expecting Pepto-Bismol pink because of the white opaque packaging. However, the vinaigrette came out a nice, natural beet-like color.

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad 2

Lastly, the apple crisps (a.k.a. healthy croutons) were served on the side. I wanted my buttery croutons, dammit! But, I tried the apple crisps individually and they were good enough that I could see myself snacking on them. The subtle apple flavor got lost in the overall mix of the salad but was crucial to the crunchy goodness of the salad.

All salad elements together made for a really well-composed salad – a little bit of sweet, a little bit of salty, a little bit of crunch, and a little bit of creaminess. It was also a very visually appetizing salad (for a fast food joint) – fresh green, vibrant pinks, and deep purple/blues. Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad is on par with salads from more premium chains like Panera, but it’s about $2 less than said premium chains.

As the Fall Equinox is rapidly approaching, I’m sad the fast food world will be a little less fresh and less delicious when the limited time Summer Berry Chicken Salad goes away.

(Nutrition Facts – half-sized salad – 210 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 500 milligrams of sodium, 420 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, and 18 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: Half-size
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Could really be fresh, hand-picked berries. Well-composed salad. Visually-appetizing.
Cons: Overwhelming smell of chicken. Not that many berries.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Crème Filled Mini Éclairs

Hershey's Cre?me Filled Mini E?clairs

An éclair looks like a chocolate bar donut and sounds like some kind of frou frou French gizmo. I can practically hear my high school French teacher scolding: “Don’t you dare forget that accent aigu above the eh (how “e” is pronounced in French)!” But, if you’ve tried to make éclairs, you’ll quickly realize that this classic French pastry deserves to be embellished with that dang accent because of how complicated it is to make.

So what business does Hershey’s have with éclairs? Hershey’s Crème Filled Mini Éclairs of course! Yep, sounds odd to me too. But I taste-tested these with an open mind. After trying these babies, Hershey’s can make all the frozen ready-to-eat desserts they want!

Instead of instant gratification, I had to thaw the mini éclairs for two hours in the fridge or 30 minutes at room temperature. I jokingly complain, but I’ll take a 30-minute thaw time over four-hour éclairs-from-scratch time any day. Unfortunately, my first red flag was that there was freezer burn; little ice crystals were hugging each of the mini éclairs. But, there’s no way to tell if the freezer burn was user error. So, I’ll give Hershey’s the benefit of the doubt – maybe I didn’t get the box into the freezer quickly enough from Walmart. The packaging does warn not to refreeze!

Hershey's Cre?me Filled Mini E?clairs 2

Either way, because of the freezer burn, the mini éclairs didn’t look great thawed. The ice crystals melted down and made the chocolate look like it was balmy with sweat. Yum, sweaty chocolate. Surprisingly, the overall structural integrity of the oblong choux pastry remained intact. I expected the pastry itself to collapse after the freezer burn thawed out.

Hershey's Cre?me Filled Mini E?clairs 3

I got through each mini éclair in three swift bites. The crème inside was very luscious and did not have an oily mouthfeel. Paired with the Hershey’s chocolate glaze, it was like I was eating creamy, milk chocolate goodness. The combination was also not sickeningly sweet; I’m not a fan of desserts that are cloyingly sweet. The glaze reminded me of the outside of a Dairy Queen Dipped Cone. And, like a dipped cone, the chocolate wrapped each choux pastry perfectly and the ratio was perfect – just enough for the amount of pastry.

The chocolate glaze was the choux pastry’s saving grace because the pastry itself wasn’t great. Could I tell the éclair had been frozen? If I didn’t personally thaw them, I might not have been able to. But, there was something about the pastry texture that clearly wasn’t fresh. It’s like fresh bagels vs. the day-old bagel pile – it tastes about the same but it’s missing that fresh dough elasticity and spring.

I could totally see myself bringing Hershey’s Crème Filled Mini Éclairs for a potluck and shamelessly taking credit for making them. But, Hershey’s must think we’re all ants because these mini éclairs are teeny-tiny! This is ‘MURRICAA!! However, Hershey’s is staying true to the essence of an éclair with this mini innovation. After all, éclairs were named after lightning because people eat ‘em (especially me) lightning quick!

(Nutrition Facts – 5 éclairs – 270 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.52
Size: 10.58 oz box/about 20 pieces
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: 30-minute thaw time over four-hour éclairs-from-scratch time. Luscious crème. Creamy, milk chocolate goodness like a Dairy Queen Dipped Cone.
Cons: Freezer burn. Sweaty chocolate. Choux pastry = day old bagel pile. Éclairs for ants.