REVIEW: Great Value Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed Donut Bites

Great Value Late Night Cravings Stuffed Donut BitesMy family settled in for some Friday night television, and the kids chimed in with dessert requests. I popped off the couch with a potential solution: Great Value Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed Donut Bites.

The frozen product did not require thawing, but my 12 year old still had to remain patient throughout the half-hour process of preheating the oven, the 15-minute cooking time, the recommended cooling time, and the glazing process. By that point she seemed eager to dig in, but was rather nonplussed by what she had been waiting for.

Great Value Late Night Cravings Stuffed Donut Bites 2

She adeptly recognized one of the key problems — the holes were nearly all stuffing, with just a thin donut shell on the outside — and she wished for more donut, less interior. Anyone expecting a jelly Munchkin analogue will be thrown off.

There are two methods when consuming these:

1) Bite into the middle and have the innards spill every which way.

2) Stuff the whole confection in one bite, overfilling your mouth with a 70/30 peanut butter/chocolate sludge.

Method two is comparable to putting a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a blender, but considerably less appealing. I did appreciate the presence of a few pieces of peanut chunk within the mess, but they mostly seemed to be calling out for refuge as if they had never passed their Guppy swimming class at the local YPCA.

Great Value Late Night Cravings Stuffed Donut Bites 3

Neither of us enjoyed the flavor of the barely-there donut or the wannabe filling. Donuts are normally pretty good by default, but this version did not taste good at all.

A lot of things here just don’t make sense. The labor involved is no more difficult than making a frozen pizza or slice n’ bake cookies, but these are not a quick snack. The expectation would be that enjoying these straight out of the oven held some advantage over a fresh version being produced, but the heat was at fault here.

I bagged the fully-cooked leftovers and put them in the fridge. I tried them the next day and preferred them cold as the filling had more time to settle, but they were still no better than adequate.

Great Value Late Night Cravings Stuffed Donut Bites 4

There’s also the issue of the glaze packet, one-third still unused. What could I have done differently to use up the excess glaze? Elect one donut hole queen for a day and pour it a bath in a finger bowl?

The cost of these stuffed donut bites is equally distressing. I suppose there’s some cache to having a frozen dessert (especially with microwave directions for post-bar hunger pangs), but when a cup of 10 Munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts is $1.99, 14 of these for $4.94 is not great value.

The 12 year old was still hungry, and she did return to the kitchen – to grab herself an apple instead. She made the right choice.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 pieces with 2.5 tsp of icing – 210 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 0 grams of monounsaturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 35 milligrams of potassium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.94
Size: 16.79 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Real peanut appearances. Glaze tastes fine. Best served cold. Kids that eat fruit by choice.
Cons: Some assembly not usually required for donut holes. Excessive glaze provided. Goopy filling when warm. Not enough donut in each bite. High price tag. Kids that pester you to make dessert, then instead choose to eat the fruit that was there the whole time.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Taco Salad

Wendy's Taco Salad

I am firmly a child of the 90’s. If you don’t believe me, take a walk around my childhood home, where you’ll see way too many Lifetouch grade school portraits of me with hair moussed up to the heavens (thanks Mom).

Don’t get me wrong, though – the 90’s were a blast. I fondly remember spending weekends developing recipes with my younger sister’s Fisher Price plastic kitchen to feed to my collection of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers action figures (the Megazord was a picky eater).

And now, it seems like the 90’s nostalgia has caught on with everyone else, because there’s been no shortage of remakes over the past couple of years. From Fuller House to French Toast Crunch, everyone wants a piece of the action, no matter how horrible the reboot may be.

Take Wendy’s Taco Salad, for example. America’s second-favorite redhead (after Ronald, of course), has apparently caved into the demands of their “loyal taco salad fans” (their words, not mine), and brought back this classic dish for millennial mouths to try.

Now, before I get any angry letters from fast food historians, yes, Wendy’s did originally release the Taco Salad in the 80’s, but since they’re solely marketing this from a 90’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to lace up my L.A. Lights to head on over and sample it for myself.

Like any other fast food salad, Wendy’s Taco Salad is built on a bed of iceberg and romaine lettuce. The bed in this example is clearly a California King, because this salad is overwhelmed with lettuce. It’s as if Wendy’s forgot that there were supposed to be other toppings on this salad and went crazy with the bags of salad mix.

Wendy's Taco Salad 2

On top of the lettuce extravaganza, Wendy’s has placed a smattering of diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. I must have visited on the cook’s first day, because the pieces of tomato I received were all from the edges, and lacked any juice or flavor. Similarly disappointing, the cheese was heavily processed, and had a firm mouthfeel.

Along with the aforementioned mattress o’ lettuce, Wendy’s provides a selection of toppings to accompany the salad. These toppings – chili, tortilla chips, “signature salsa,” and light sour cream – come on the side, a sort of “taco kit” to allow you to garnish your salad as you please.

In true TIB fashion, I went all in on the toppings. While I appreciate the customization opportunity, the minuscule bowl Wendy’s provided made it difficult to mix everything together. The tortilla chips were humorously oversized for the salad, and lacked a distinctive salty kick. Their partner in crime, Wendy’s “signature salsa,” was equally as upsetting, as its sour notes overwhelmed any discernible tomato flavor.

Wendy's Taco Salad 3

The standout here was the chili – while suspect in origin, its strong tomato and cumin flavor brought some much needed zest to the salad. In fact, the chili really brings the only semblance of flavor to the salad, as it’s not served with any dressing. If you don’t conserve your chili wisely, the salad turns into a real slog to eat.

While I appreciate their play for nostalgia, Wendy’s Taco Salad should go the way of Hammer Pants. You shouldn’t touch this.

(Nutrition Facts – 660 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1820 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 32 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: Full-size salad
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Having an excuse to break out my Pogs. Flavorful chili. Jamming out to fast food training videos.
Cons: Reminding my mom that mousse exists. Ridiculous amounts of roughage. Sour salsa.

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: Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt

Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt

Some memories are best left in their own time. Case in point: Third wave ska, Disney Afternoon cartoons, JNCO pants. Let them be. Revisiting these things is a risk, a danger to the fond nostalgia they might evoke at this point in time. This is because they are objectively poor (and memories are unreliable), composed of a multitude of components and emotions, including the way we picture our younger selves—hopeful, untainted, resilient. Memories are a trick. We’re all on the same page here, right? Memories are a trick. Got it? Good.

Cue the time machine. Sometimes it’s a phone booth, sometimes it’s a DeLorean, and sometimes it’s a British phone booth. In this case it’s a supermarket freezer, packed full of frozen treats, yearning to be consumed. The colorful packaging displaying giant carb pills chock full o’ meat ‘n dairy tantalize and beckon, ready to send you back ten, fifteen, twenty years. Whatever you like, master. Look, it’s even a fixed run! Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt. What a beaut.

Remember Hot Pockets?

Flaky crust injected with beef or pork — an inside-out pizza, a sandwich with no edges. An afternoon treat before soccer practice, or during a Mortal Kombat II jam sesh. Enjoyed with a cold Fruitopia. Mom, stop trying to make phone calls, I’m on AOL! Aw, man I got Hot Pocket all over my hip-hop Looney Toons t-shirt. I know, I know. We just went over this. Memories are lies, yeah yeah. … Eff it, we’re going back! It’s a time machine, bro. You can’t not go. It’s a time machine. Don’t be lame. Let’s do it. Start it up!

The Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt sucks. The box promises Angus beef, portabella mushrooms, provolone and mozzarella and “soft-baked bread.” The bread is soft, yes, sort of like a ciabatta or something. It’s also super soggy after the requisite minute and fifty seconds in the microwave. Maybe there’s a conventional oven plan we can put this on? The box has no instructions for that. All the best, we’ve seen microwavable burritos. We don’t have 40 minutes to sit around waiting for a Hot Pocket to thaw.

Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt Innards

There are a few hits of “premium meat” flavor and mushroom taste, which is somehow immediately fleeting, taken over by steaming hot filling that tastes like nothing. The photo on the box is stuffed with beef and cheese, and the bisected reality is one of a space worm from Dune that feeds on bad choices and nostalgia. The beef on the box is sliced and layered. The beef in the actual pocket is chopped into bits, resembling the leftover bits from a deli slicer. Even the box has memories that lie.

Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt Closeup

The worst part is that it’s not substantial at all. It barely registers as a snack. If you’re not gonna make it good to eat at least food coma us so we can dream about a Hot Pocket that is satisfying on some level. It was a bad omen when taking it out of the microwave, the Hot Pocket looked like a pet gerbil that had made a doodie mess out of its backside all over the plate. It looked shameful, like it had made a mistake. It’s not your fault, though. The mistake was all ours.

As the time travel effects wear off and we slingshot back to the present, we see a whirlwind of our past: First girlfriend, favorite teacher, Chuck Berry’s cousin Marvin Berry, wife of multiple time travelers Rachel McAdams. Reflecting on our trip, Prophet Gaffigan was right. We should have never gone back. Now the entire past is up for scrutiny. Maybe everything in the past sucks, except for Batman the Animated Series, Starter jackets, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The question is: Did the Hot Pocket get worse, or was it never good in the first place? The answer doesn’t matter. In 2014, it’s garbage. We’re all about e-cigs, Teslas, and Google Glass now. Perhaps it was a fine product for children. But we’re adults. We’ve had sushi. We’ve eaten Ethiopian food. This is not for us anymore. Forget it, Jake. It’s Hot Pockets.

(Nutrition Facts – 270 calories, 90 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 490 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.)

Item: Hot Pockets Limited Edition Angus Beef Melt
Purchased Price: $2.00
Size: 2 sandwiches/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Very cheap at a buck a piece. Maybe one bite of okay flavor.
Cons: Not substantial. Contents eventually taste like nothing, like a waste of product. Should be at least filling if not tasty, but is neither.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Double Cheeseburger Pizza

Papa John's Double Cheeseburger Pizza

Being fortunate enough to live in an area with a large number of mom ‘n’ pop pizza shops, I’ve seen the cheeseburger pizza road before. (But not an actual Cheeseburger Pizza Road – if I saw that, I would move there immediately.)

I’ve found that small pizza joints tend to have a wider variety of toppings and, thus, a wider variety of specialty pizzas, ranging from cheeseburger to taco to gyro to something with pine nuts and Hoisin sauce. Okay, I made up the last one, but it’s not out of the question.

Comparatively, most chain specialty pizzas and toppings in general are pretty pedestrian. I consider myself lucky if I can even get white sauce as an option. If they do decide to branch out, it tends to be towards Crazy Town, like shoving hot dogs or seven different cheeses into their crusts. In fact, a lot of the insanity in chain specialty pizzas involves shoving shit into the crust. I’m looking at you, Pizza Hut.

Papa John’s went a different direction with their Double Cheeseburger Pizza, however. They put the crazy on top, not in the crust.

Papa John's Double Cheeseburger Pizza Slice

Here’s what Papa John’s has to say about the Double Cheeseburger Pizza: “Featuring a zesty burger sauce covered with a double layer of 100% real beef, dill pickle slices, fresh cut roma tomatoes and 100% real cheese made from mozzarella.”

I have several points of contention with this description. Let’s start with the burger sauce.

Papa John's Double Cheeseburger Pizza Burger Sauce

First off, the words “zesty burger sauce” are both generic and sound like they should be about five miles away from my pizza. Upon tasting, I uphold this idea. On its own, the flavor of the sauce was distinctly mayo mixed with ketchup, aka the poor man’s Thousand Island dressing. Call me crazy, but fresh-from-the-oven hot mayonnaise is not appealing.

Next we have the double layer of real beef. “Double layer” is a questionable quantity, and that really showed here, as I found the beef pieces to be rather sparse. Furthermore, the pieces of beef were small and remarkably flavorless, which is a bad trait for a pizza that’s supposed to taste like a burger.

Papa John's Double Cheeseburger Pizza Pickles

The tomatoes and cheese were just fine, but the real issue was the pickles. While the beef had a weak showing, the pickles certainly made up for it in spades. It appeared that Papa John’s used the same pickles you’d find on a regular fast-food burger, which sounds promising on paper but did not translate at all to a burger party in my mouth.

I could not escape the pickles. There was a slice in every bite. After I’d done my duty for the purposes of this review and eaten the pizza as-is, I tried removing the pickles in an attempt to have a slice of pizza that did not taste like a jar of brine. It was impossible. Even with the pickles themselves gone, the juice had been absorbed deep into the crust.

I would like to officially rename Papa John’s Double Cheeseburger Pizza to Papa John’s Precariously Plentiful Pickle Pizza. With sad beef, warm mayo sauce, and so many brined cucumbers that it made me want to make about 15 Pickles the Drummer jokes throughout this review, I cannot in good conscience call this a cheeseburger pizza.

To use a forced basketball analogy, Papa John’s Double Cheeseburger Pizza needs to work on its fundamentals. For right now, I’m benching it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/6 of a small pizza – 260 calories, 130 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 600 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, 8 grams of protein.)

Item: Papa John’s Double Cheeseburger Pizza
Purchased Price: $6.00 (on sale: regular price $12)
Size: Small
Purchased at: Papa John’s
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: I got it for 50 percent off. The tomatoes and cheese were fine. Metalocalypse. I only ordered a small. If you put pickles on everything you eat, this is your dream come true.
Cons: Pickles overtook everything. A chain restaurant that left the crust alone but still made an awful specialty pizza. Warm mayo/ketchup sauce. I wish I was actually good at basketball. The double serving of burger was a double serving of sadness.

REVIEW: Burger King Big King (2013)

Burger King Big King

For every Diablo II, there is a Titan Quest. For every Bruce Lee, you get a Bruce Li (or a Bruce Leung if you’re really unfortunate). And for every Volcano, you are tortured by a Dante’s Peak. Is it me or am I the only who laughed when that old lady was screaming in that boiling lake? The melting legs in Volcano were funny too, but at least it had Anne Heche when she was “librarian-hot.”

They say people believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. (Run-on sentence warning.) I say people who say that are secretly wishing to bury a pickaxe into the skull of the imitation rather than spew some bullshit silver lining sayings.

Burger King’s Big King isn’t so much an imitation as it is more of a dare to size up a corporate “Who’s penis is bigger?” argument. The name itself, Big King, is a figurative flaming arrow shot Rambo-way at a certain clown who hawks a particular legendary two all-beef patties sandwich.

But if you plan on taking down a legend, you need to bring more than just empty talk.

You see, I envision this as a bonus stage in Mortal Kombat II, complete with a pixelated voice shouting “Round One, FIGHT!” and the secret blood code unlocked. It’s Big King versus Big Mac! (Cue the underrated Utah Saints’ remix of Mortal Kombat theme song.)

Then I picture the sap playing as Big King watching in silence as he is being barraged by multiple point punches. Soon, computerized shouts of “Toasty!” and “Flawless” pepper the air as the digitalized lettuce and pickles start flying around. Of course, the player smashes the Playstation controller onto the cold tile and walks out.

I believe Big King was introduced in the 90’s, the decade that brought such embarrassments like the soul patch, nipples on Batman’s suit or The Spin Doctors. However, not everything in the 90’s was bad, but Big King will make you think otherwise.

As you can imagine, Big King is two savory fire-grilled beef patties, special sweet thousand island sauce, lettuce, melted American cheese, crunchy pickles, crispy onions in a sesame seed bun. Don’t try to hum that tune while saying that because it won’t work. If you don’t detect the difference, your taste buds will certainly alert you to it.

The burger, to say at the very least, made me contemplate suicide after I poisoned all my goldfish by dropping an Alka-Seltzer in the bowl while listening to Interpol. Dramatic I know, but this burger was a complete Hindenburg disaster.

Burger King Big King Ooze

Upon examination, there was so much sauce. It was dripping off the sides like a glazed donut. The burger patties were dry and thin, like those cheap chocolate chip cookies you get from a subpar travel lodge. True to form in my experience, the cheese was not melted and limp. Yet, the lettuce and onions were abundant and crisp, and those pickles crunched like a sonata. Maybe those passive-aggressive people are right, there is a damned silver lining in everything!

Burger King Big King Topless 2

When I took my first bite, I wanted to throw it away angrily or 80’s-style wrestler stomp it on the ground. All I could taste was the tangy thousand-island dressing that had too much mayonnaise, the intense briny edge of the pickles and flavorless (but crispy) iceberg lettuce. If the sesame bun was toasted, I had no clue because it was soggy and disgusting. It was like eating a sweet mayonnaise and lettuce sandwich. The onions didn’t even add much, except depression.

The sauce drowned out everything. It doesn’t help the beef patties were wafer-thin as if it were pretending to be carpaccio and the flavorless lettuce only emphasized the sole flavor of sweet and tangy globs of mayonnaise.

I was so angry, the onion rings couldn’t even make me happy. Instead I smashed it with my fists and Frisbee’d the offensive sandwich into my neighbor’s lawn.

Burger King’s promise that “Taste is King” on its bags is akin to the corner escort who says “I love you long time.” I’m all for an alternative, but sometimes the old adage rings true…the original is sometimes better. Unless you’re talking about 2008’s Rambo, which I hate to admit, it kicks First Blood out of the jungle.

(Nutrition Facts – 510 calories, 29 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 780 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of sugar, 18 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Big King
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: The lettuce and pickles were crunchy. Jet Li. You will be find comfort being assured that McDonald’s still trumps in all other special sauce sandwiches. Unlocking the blood code and stomping things 80’s wrestler style.
Cons: Too much sauce. Cheese not melted. Bruce Li. Thin and dry patties. The onion rings won’t save you. Smashing your controller in a fit of rage as an adult.