REVIEW: Hot Chocolate M&M’s made with Dark Chocolate

Hot Chocolate M&M's Made with Dark Chocolate

Whenever I drink hot chocolate and look down into my mug, I think about dirty storm water. And when I see the brown water in flooded streams and rivers, I think about hot chocolate. It’s a shame they look similar.

Of course, Hot Chocolate M&M’s made with Dark Chocolate doesn’t taste like dirty and/or sewage-y like I imagine storm water does, but it also doesn’t taste like hot chocolate.

But then again, my experience with hot cocoa involves dumping a packet of Swiss Miss powdered hot cocoa mix into a mug, pouring hot water into said mug, stirring it until it looks like storm drain water, taking a sip, burning my mouth, waiting a few minutes to let it cool, taking another sip, and then thinking why I made all this effort to make chocolate flavored water. (I know I could use milk, but it would ruin the transition to the next paragraph. But then again, this aside probably ruined the transition.)

But these M&M’s don’t taste like chocolate flavored water. They taste better.

Each bag comes with three colors of candies: black, white, and off-white. I guess the black represents chocolate, white represents milk, and off-white represents marshmallows, even though marshmallows are as white as milk.

Cutting them in half reveals…ACK!

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They’re like chocolatey evil horizontal cats eyes looking at me! Those eyes are following me around! I promise to do your bidding, chocolate cat eyes! Just stop staring at me!

The iris of the chocolatey evil horizontal cats eyes appears to be the dark chocolate and the pupil looks like milk chocolate. I could be wrong, but I’m too scared to look directly at them again.

When popping the candy into my mouth, the first thing I notice is a coconut flavor, which is strange, but it’s fleeting. Once I took a bite into them, that coconut was replaced by the chocolate and an artificial marshmallow flavor. Yeah, I know artificial marshmallow flavor sounds bad, but it’s surprisingly tasty in this candy and I’d take it over Swiss Miss mixed with water any day. But I could see others not enjoying the artificial flavor.

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I’m not sure if the marshmallow flavoring comes from the dark chocolate, milk chocolate, both, or if the chocolatey evil horizontal cats eyes have hypnotized me into thinking there’s marshmallow, but the tiny dots in the milk chocolate make me think it’s coming from it. The overall chocolate flavor leans slightly towards the dark, but I think the combination of the two chocolates, plus the artificial marshmallow flavor, does create a flavor that can be recognized as hot cocoa. I’m not talking chocolate flavored water hot cocoa, I’m talking chocolate flavored milk hot cocoa with lots of marshmallows.

As a whole, these Hot Chocolate M&M’s are wonderful. There doesn’t seem to be a difference in flavor between the three colors, but who cares because they’re awesome. But, damn, why did the bag have to be smaller than previous M&M’s flavors. It’s almost 20 percent smaller and around the same price as previous flavors. That makes me want to throw a hot cup of Swiss Miss at the person who decided to sell it in a smaller bag.

So if you’ve got on your ugly holiday sweater and want some hot chocolate, don’t settle for some storm runoff-looking Swiss Miss. Instead, pick up a bag of these Hot Chocolate M&M’s.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 26 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, 2% calcium, and 2% iron.)

Item: Hot Chocolate M&M’s made with Dark Chocolate
Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Better tasting than chocolate flavored hot water. Artificial marshmallow flavor is surprisingly nice.
Cons: 20 percent smaller bag than other flavors. When split in half the candy center looks like evil eyes. Artificial marshmallow flavoring might not appeal to some.

REVIEW: Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn

Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn

The Christmas and holiday food season is filled with minefields of discontent. Like the hand-knit Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sweater your grandma has given you every year since you were seven, it means well with its eggnog this and candy cane that, but for some of us, it’s all just too much of the same old same old.

A man’s pants can only expand so much between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day; and really, do you want another slice of pumpkin pie since you’ve been eating pumpkin spice everything since September?

There’s one exception: sugar cookies. I’ve never met someone who has grown tired of sugar cookies. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking crisp snowman-shaped cutouts with royal icing or chewy circles sprinkled with demerara sugar, the fact is that sugar cookies are nearly impossible to resist.

Just think about it; if Santa can eat millions of them in a single night year after year, you know there has gotta be something ineffably transcendent about the combination of sugar, butter, and flour. Or, Cracker Jack might say, sugar, sprinkles, and popcorn.

What is this, you say. An early present in my stocking, or a lump of coal to fan the flame on the pyre of holiday themed food trends past? In the case of Cracker Jack’s Holiday Sugar Cookie popcorn, it’s not just a present, it’s a present with a prize.

Now that’s a win-win.

Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn 2

The line between sugar cookie and birthday cake flavoring seems to be getting blurrier each year, and this faux-frosting coated Cracker Jack doesn’t help separate the two. Not that frosting is bad, because the one on this popcorn is excellent. It’s sweet, crunchy, and it has everything the glaze of normal Cracker Jack’s have, including those trademarked hints of molasses and caramel flavor.

While molasses might not be the first pairing that comes to mind with sugar cookie, in this case it works, It’s made even better by a pleasant artificiality of sprinkles and those cute little nonpareils the Pillsbury Dough Boy manages to bake into every Funfetti product this side of Fourth of July.

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Sweeter than an actual sugar cookie, each crunchy, perfectly popped kernel may lack the grainy chew of flour and butter, but it’s still highly enjoyable to munch on. There’s still that lingering taste of salty popcorn on the backend, which, although far from the traditional sugar cookie experience, makes the popcorn all the better. It’s as if sugar cookie has finally picked up some of the synergy created by the sea salt chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie fads, and even though the popcorn isn’t as rich, it works.

There’s only one downside, as far as I’m concerned: the glorious prize, so beautifully advertised on the bag to suggest images of unwrapping gifts around the tree, is nothing more than a sticker. But I won’t complain too much. After all, it could have been a Rudolph sweater, which now that I think about it may have been worse than coal.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 15 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Cracker Jack Holiday Sugar Cookie Popcorn
Purchased Price: $1.28
Size: 4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Like having frosting coated popcorn. Crunchy popcorn mimics light give of sugar cookie. Salty-sweet combination with back notes of molasses and caramel. SPRINKLES.
Cons: Typically weak Cracker Jack prize. Doesn’t come in cute holiday cut-out shapes like snowmen or Santa Clauses stuck in chimneys. No peanuts.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe

Hershey's Kisses Deluxe

Does anyone remember Roller Riders? The early 90s As-Seen-On-TV “Scootboard” product with the catchy jingle (“It’s a scootboard!/That’s what it is!/Steers like a racecar/Glides like a skateboard/Roller rider: It’s a scootboard!”)

The thing looked something like this, but was targeted toward teens and tweens. Anybody? Anybody??

Because, presuming YouTube videos encompass all public knowledge, Roller Rider never existed. Indeed, there’s no visual archive, Vimeo documentary, botched soundtrack, or VCR-spliced upload that visually confirms it was a consumer product. Yet there’s a small handful of people who deeply miss it. Who long to scoot, race, and sing the song in the break room at our day job. We may be small, but our love for the product? Is significant.

Hardcore fans of Hershey Kisses are similar. We’re small time, but our devotion is huge. We seek the simple life, although there was that one incident where we had to get a root canal after we ate an entire bag of them at Timothy McDonald’s birthday after he busted open an entire piñata of them in 3rd grade. But other than that, totally simple. I am one such fan. Perhaps you are, too. We are the proud. The few. And we will not whither and die.

Knowing this base of steadfast devotees, Hershey generated a brand new Deluxe Kiss to fancy it up a bit. Filled with ganache, crispities, and a full hazelnut, it strays just enough from the original to be different, and yet remains simple enough to appeal to its pre-existing fans. Its profile sounds much like a Rocher truffle without the fancy name, thus making it both potentially delicious and a solid contender for the stocking-stuffing holidays ahead. But the question is: would Santa approve?

Hershey's Kisses Deluxe 2

Right out of the wrapper, things get off to a swift start with the unwrapped dots looking shiny as a Porsche dried with microfiber terry cloths. The little bell-like chocolate cones smell of nutty fudge and are about 2-3 times as big as the average Kiss, making them certified monsters. Delicious certified monsters.

Indeed, the experience only gets better once you bite in. On the front end, you get a shell covering a more creamy, ganache-like center that tastes distinctly of Hershey chocolate: a little chocolate frosting, a little vanilla, and that special twang of Whatever The Hell’s In There. There’s a whole, if somewhat diminutive, roasted hazelnut tucked in the middle, which adds a solid, nutty crunch to the creamy-crispy experience. Consuming said Kiss can be accomplished in two or three nibbles or one full, melty bite. I support the latter, always opting for the “Go big or miss out” philosophy.

Hershey's Kisses Deluxe 3

I have ridden in a Mercedes once in my life. The seats had air conditioning and sorta hugged you as you turn. It was cool, but I don’t see myself wanting to do it everyday. These Kisses are similar: they’re fun once in a while, but I could see them getting a little too frou-frou for everyday, especially with the high price point ($1.19 for 3 kisses).

But, perhaps money isn’t what’s important. Perhaps what’s important is that the Kiss, at its core, is still delicious. The addition of crispies and hazelnuts only highlight that fact. While I may not be able to afford them all the time, in my dreams, I will eat a bag of them while driving a Roller Rider into the sunset. Note to Santa: that would be a stunning Christmas gift.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 Kisses – 130 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe
Purchased Price: $1.19
Size: 3 Kisses
Purchased at: Rite Aid
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Chocolate frosting. Crispy texture. Ganache-like center. Crunchy roasted hazelnut. Eating a bag of Kisses out of a piñata. Roller Riders.
Cons: Pricey. Crispities add only poofy, texturized air. All those questionable ingredients. Where have all the Roller Riders gone? Mercedes seats that hug you are mildly creepy.

REVIEW: Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries

Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries

Which would you rather fight in a duel to the death?

A) 1 buffalo-sized chicken
B) 100 chicken-sized buffaloes

Across the span of history, this question has troubled every great thinker, from Plato to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and even the wisest philosopher of our time: Waldo of Where’s Waldo? fame. We thought we were searching for him in those colorful pages, but he was really teaching us how to find ourselves.

And while I doubt this age-old enigma will ever have a solution, I think it makes for good food for thought while eating Burger King’s new Buffalo Chicken Fries, which combine everyone’s favorite earthworm French fry shaped chicken morsels with fried breading that’s spiced like a buffalo chicken wing.

I want to take a second to applaud the adorable packaging on these Buffalo Chicken Fries. Though PETA may object to the implied idea of a manmade chicken-buffalo hybrid, I prefer to imagine it as the Burger King’s festive doorknocker.

Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries 2

My 9 breaded pool noodles Chicken Fries varied in length from “extended middle finger” to “Dixon Ticonderoga #2,” but they all shared a greasy, semi-soggy texture and wiggly flimsiness. As a result, there’s no crisp bite like you’d find in a McNugget. Instead, the sketchy, spongy mouthfeel is closer to that of an over-microwaved Tyson dinosaur nugget.

Or maybe SpongeBob just fell into BK’s deep fryer.

The tastiness of the breading makes up for this, though. True to Burger King’s online description, the buffalo trinity of pepper, butter, and vinegar are all here. The standard floury and oily taste of the breading has a garlic buttery fattiness that’s spiced up by a modest kick of pepper.

Flavor wise, this kick is one part Cayenne, one part black pepper, and one part “generic red pepper from a Looney Tunes cartoon that made Foghorn Leghorn blow steam out of his ears.”

The mild heat wasn’t strong enough to trample my taste buds, but it still left my tongue feeling as pleasantly tickled as the Elmo dolls people got trampled over on Black Friday. And while the tangy acridness of the vinegar didn’t show up until after my meal, for hours afterwards, my mouth was filled with the flavorful ghosts of dyed Easter eggs and pickle jars.

Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries 3

Unfortunately, this authentic buffalo experience comes at the cost of the actual meat. There was a skinny layer of chewy and bizarrely mealy chicken at the center of each fry, but any poultry flavor is largely stomped out by the brazen hoof of the buffalo breading.

So if you’re like me and are looking for a reliably chicken-y Chicken Fry experience, you’ll need to employ some careful tongue archaeology to extract the flavor of these chickens from their spicy prisons.

But if you’re the kind of buffalo flavor fanatic who rents Mark Ruffalo movies just on the off-chance that the DVD case made a typo, these peppery, buttery Slenderman appendages Chicken Fries might just make you fall in buffa-love.

Either way, I recommend pairing the fragile Fries with a thick dipping sauce to mask the iffy texture. Ranch is a good choice for contrasting the spice with cool creaminess. Plus you get to make everyone around you groan and boo by exclaiming, “Look, I’m a buffalo rancher!”

Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries 4

But buffalo sauce works, too, half because of the added heat and nearly cheesy viscosity, and half because I like pretending that the Buffalo Chicken Fries are vengeful ghouls spewing forth their own fiery, ethereal ectoplasm.

Hey, Halloween might be over for you

(Nutrition Facts – 9 fries – 270 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 850 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Buffalo Chicken Fries
Purchased Price: $3.19
Size: 9 fries
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Accurate buffalo chicken flavor. Elmo-levels of tickling spiciness. Pairs well with fiery, ethereal ectoplasm. Changing my college major to “tongue archaeology.” An inevitable SpongeBob/Burger King crossover episode.
Cons: Mushy mouthfeel. Asking, “Where’s the chicken?” in my Wendy’s old lady voice. Licking Mark Ruffalo DVDs. Extinction of the dinosaurs via microwave.

QUICK YOGURT REVIEW: Yoplait Plenti Strawberry Greek Yogurt

Yoplait Plenti Strawberry Greek Yogurt

Yoplait’s Plenti Strawberry Greek Yogurt has 140 calories, so this review will have exactly 140 words.

The highlight of this yogurt are the whole grain oats, flax, and pumpkin seeds floating IN the yogurt. There’s no side mix-ins compartment like Chobani Flip or mix-ins in the cover like YoCrunch. Yoplait continues to make it so easait for folks who like simple yogurt instructions.

The yogurt tastes and looks like regular Yoplait strawberry yogurt with bits of fruit. As for the texture of the whole grain oats, flax, and pumpkin seeds that have been sitting in yogurt for days or weeks, they were soft and squishy like quinoa in a quinoa salad. Their texture was weird at first, but halfway through I didn’t mind it. To be honest, if they were still crunchy I would’ve yelled, “Science, what have you done!”

Yoplait Plenti Strawberry Greek Yogurt 2

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 5.5 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 140 calories, 15 calories from fat, 1.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% calcium, 2% iron, and 20% vitamin D.