The new place I moved into doesn’t have a conventional oven. I knew it wasn’t going to have one, but I didn’t think I would mind. However, it turns out I kind of miss having one.
Because without an oven, I can’t heat frozen pizzas, make casseroles or make big batches of cookies, brownies and crystal meth.
But I also kind of don’t miss having an oven.
When I had one, I had to wait for it to preheat, clean it regularly with Easy-Off and live with the fear of big batches of crystal meth causing a huge explosion.
Thank Spencer for the microwave oven and its ability to heat the water molecules in food. And thank Marie Callender’s for their new Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Multi-Serve Bakes because now I can serve a lasagna meal for two to four people without a conventional oven and the phosphine flavor the lasagna would have if that conventional oven was part of a meth lab.
According to the box, the Marie Callender’s lasagna contains, “freshly made noodles layered with white meat chicken, crimini mushrooms, spinach and real ricotta cheese.”
Preparing the lasagna involves sticking it in the microwave oven for 13 to 15 minutes, which is probably the longest wait I’ve ever had for a microwaveable meal.
Now some of you might be wondering about the effects of exposing the lasagna to radiation for an amount of time that equals an episode of Robot Chicken with commercials. Well don’t fret, my friend, because it comes in a magical baking tray that bakes evenly, won’t cause burnt corners and won’t cause the lasagna to explode like an overheated meth mixture in a conventional oven.
For something that was nuked for 15 minutes in a microwave, the lasagna turned out pretty good, except for one very small section that had some tough, dried out noodles. The chicken was soft, there was an ample amount of sauce, and the spinach, mushrooms and cheese were spread evenly throughout the dish.
The delicious tomato sauce that flowed in between the layers of noodles blended well with the spinach and mushrooms, allowing their flavors to come through. The cheese and chicken provided little flavor, but I’m fine with that because the sauce made up for it.
The baking tray the Marie Callender’s Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Multi-Serve Bake came in measures 8 inches by 6.5 inches by 1.75 inches. It’s a decent sized tray and I believe it provides enough to feed two hungry people or four meth addicts who have suppressed appetites thanks to meth.
(Nutrition Facts – 1 cup/227 grams – 290 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 700 milligrams of sodium, 630 milligrams of potassium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 15 grams of protein and a bunch of vitamins and minerals.)
Item: Marie Callender’s Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Multi-Serve Bakes Price: $5.99 (on sale) Size: 31 ounces Purchased at: Safeway Rating: 7 out of 10 Pros: Tasty. Serves two to four, depending on appetites. Good sauce. Can taste the spinach and mushrooms. Spinach, mushrooms and cheese were spread evenly throughout the dish. Comes in a nifty baking tray. Cons: Meth. Chicken and cheese provided little flavor. Meth. Took a long time to cook in the microwave. Phosphine gas. Not being able to bake big batches of cookies and brownies. Meth.
The bite-sized Cinnabon Center of the Roll sounds like the cinnamon roll equivalent of donut holes. But its name sounds like it took 20 seconds to come up with because it’s so literal. Where’s the marketing pixie dust or marketing cream cheese frosting to give it a catchy name?
Well I’ve got some marketing pixie dust right here and in 30 seconds I’m going to come up with a better name for the Cinnabon Center of the Roll. Ready?
BOOM! I got it!
Did it in 25 seconds. Feel free to use it.
The Cinnabon Center of the Roll takes the sticky, gooey middle of their classic cinnamon roll, stick it in a cup and cover it with their signature and equally sticky, gooey cream cheese frosting. They’re currently available at participating locations until November 6th.
Quesadilla are quite possibly the easiest Mexican dish to make. Grab a tortilla, throw it on a skillet, put some cheese on it, add some cooked chicken, let the cheese melt, fold over the tortilla and, voila, you now have a Taco Bell employee’s dexterity.
But Tyson wants to make quesadillas even easier with their microwaveable Any’tizers QuesaDippers.
Heck, Tyson wants it to be so easy that they even cut the quesadilla into wedges for you. Is there anything Tyson can’t do? Perhaps they could teach me how they’re able to effortlessly Chinese Finger Trap two words together to create words that will never find their way into a Webster’s Dictionary, like Any’tizers and QuesaDippers.
The Tyson Any’tizers QuesaDippers are filled with seasoned chicken and Monterey Jack cheese. They come in two varieties: Fajita Chicken with Cilantro Lime Salsa and Taco Seasoned Chicken with Zesty Garden Salsa.
Described by Taco Bell’s website as “A double-sized Chalupa shell packed with seasoned ground beef, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, real cheddar cheese and nacho cheese sauce, red strips and topped with reduced fat sour cream,” the XXL Chalupa flies in the face of common sense and the recommendations of any nutritionist. Weighing in at 266 grams, the XXL Chalupa is 57.5% larger than the original Chalupa. I have this delightful mental image of Jillian Michaels screaming at the XXL Chalupa with all the rage she can muster, which, if The Biggest Loser is any indication, is a lot of rage.
I also like the inclusion of “reduced fat sour cream.” That has to be a little wink-wink nudge-nudge from Taco Bell to us, right? It’s like they’re saying, “C’mon, we know you’re going to order a Diet Coke to go along with this monstrosity.” Taco Bell has their finger on the erratic pulse of their clientele.
I certainly did not expect to be handed a giant box when I ordered my XXL Chalupa, but that is what I got. I’m not sure the box was entirely necessary â€“ they probably could have wrapped it up pretty snug â€“ but it’s smart from a marketing standpoint. I felt like I’d just purchased something with real heft. An event, not just a taco.
It does not fail to impress upon opening the box, either. The XXL Chalupa actually has sides that curve up to keep all of its innards from spilling out like a teenager in a horror movie who just got eviscerated because he had sex with his girlfriend. Poor guy, he just wanted a little action. In a barn. In the middle of nowhere. With a crazy serial killer on the loose. I mean c’mon, he’s got his priorities in order.
As you can see, my chalupa had a containment breach, and all the sour cream on my XXL Chalupa was globbed onto one side, half of it not inside the taco. Whatever, it happens. You roll the dice when you get fast food; you’re lucky if you actually get what you ordered, and you’re lucky if all the ingredients are distributed properly. That is just the way of things.
The shell was crispy and fried to perfection. It seemed more deep-fried than a normal Chalupa; it actually reminded me strongly of frybread, which is definitely a good thing. There was just the right amount of Taco Bell’s mystery ground beef and nacho cheese sauce. I think the addition of the nacho cheese really stepped up the flavor. It also had shredded cheese, but I always found the shredded cheese on fast food tacos to be weak and almost flavorless. Nacho cheese all the way.
The lettuce was nice and crunchy and the tomatoes were tasty and fresh. Unfortunately, the red strips were buried between the ground beef and the rest of the toppings, resulting in soggy tortilla that added no flavor to the party. I topped one half of my XXL Chalupa with Fire-Roasted Salsa and the other with Salsa Verde, but we’ll get into those later, as I want them to get their own time in the spotlight. I will say, however, that both worked nicely on the taco.
Overall, I really enjoyed the XXL Chalupa. I challenged myself to finish the whole thing, and much to my disbelief, I actually did it! And then I felt miserable for two hours afterward. And I still have heartburn. I think I covered my second, third, and fourthmeal. But it was worth it! I may have a dainty feminine appetite, but I think even a big guy with a big appetite would feel satisfied with the XXL Chalupa. There’s no actual new ingredients here, but the amount of them in the taco is impressive. You’ll find the contents of a regular taco to be severely anemic after eating the XXL Chalupa. You’ll also need at least two napkins â€“ while the turned up sides do help a little, this is something you certainly wouldn’t want to eat while driving.
Now then, to the Border Salsas!
I have always enjoyed Taco Bell’s Border Sauces. I love condiments in general, (I even had a shirt with a mustard packet on it from the now-defunct Condiment Packet Museum that I wore in public) but for some reason, Border Sauces were always my favorite. Mild, Hot, Fire, it didn’t matter. As a youth, I would just rip them open and empty the entire contents of the packet into my mouth. In hindsight, putting a sauce packet to my lips was not the most sanitary thing in the world, but, considering the strange things I ate as a child, I’ve probably put worse things in my mouth.
No comments from the peanut gallery, please.
So you can see why I was excited when Taco Bell announced two new members of the family, Verde and Fire-Roasted Border Salsas. Note that these are salsas, not sauces. Given, “salsa” is the Spanish word for “sauce,” but I think most Americans associate “salsa” with the chunky dip, which makes me wonder if these new Border Salsas are going to be more chunky than the already existing Border Sauces.
Fire-Roasted Border Salsa
It may be hard to see in the picture, but there are lots of dark flecks in Fire-Roasted Border Salsa. I think those are supposed to represent the char you get when you actually roast tomatoes. I decided it would be a little more hygienic to squirt the salsas onto a plate instead of sucking the condiment straight out of the packet, and it definitely came out thicker than the three existing Border Sauces.
The flavor is surprisingly rich; it’s got a sweet heat that isn’t too spicy but sneaks up on you gradually. I could really taste the underlying tomato flavor, but it wasn’t a cheap tomato-y flavor, like, say, ketchup. The vinegar complemented the rich flavor of the tomatoes. Fire-roasted tomatoes are actually the second ingredient listed, which means that rich flavor is genuine.
I have to say, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Fire-Roasted Border Salsa. The three existing Border Sauces â€“ Mild, Hot and Fire â€“ are pretty much just what they’re called. “Generic hot sauce,” not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. But Fire-Roasted has a real flavor, and while I have never allowed ketchup to enter my home, I wouldn’t mind having a bottle of this around. It would be great on a hot dog. Actually, since I demanded a fistful of each of the new flavors, I could make that dream happen.
I also like the message on the packet â€“ timely!
Verde Border Salsa
You can see the flecks much more clearly in the Salsa Verde. They could be either green chile pepper or tomatillo, which are the second and third ingredients in this salsa. Again, it came out of the packet thicker than the Border Sauces, and again, it had a depth of flavor that they lack.
The vinegar plays well with the pepper and tomatillo flavors, too. However, unlike Fire-Roasted, Salsa Verde has more of a vinegar twang with the chile pepper for a mild spice, instead of the sweet/spice combination of the Fire-Roasted. The depth of flavor seems to come from the tomatillo, which tastes great, and also has a tartness that works with the vinegar. Interestingly, I have a feeling that many people in this country don’t actually know what a tomatillo tastes like, which may leave them wondering what mysterious flavor is in this salsa. Kudos to Taco Bell for actually introducing people to an authentic Mexican flavor, for once!
Apparently, Taco Bell thinks “Spanish” is a synonym for “fancy.” Those same people who have never eaten a tomatillo are the same people who will think this is true.
All in all, I loved both new Border Salsas and think Taco Bell really outdid themselves. If only they could put forth this kind of effort on all their new menu items. Between these and their Cantina Tacos, they seem to be heading in the right direction.
(Nutrition Facts â€“ XXL Chalupa – 1 taco (266 grams) â€“ 650 calories, 350 calories from fat, 39 grams total of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,300 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of dietary fiber, 6 gram of sugars and 23 grams of protein.)
Item: Taco Bell XXL Chalupa, Fire-Roasted Border Salsa & Verde Border Salsa Price: $2.79 for the XXL Chalupa; both Border Salsas free Size: 1 taco (266 grams); 2 salsa packets Purchased at: Taco Bell Rating: 8 out of 10 (XXL Chalupa) Rating: 10 out of 10 (Fire-Roasted Border Salsa) Rating: 10 out of 10 (Verde Border Salsa) Pros:XXL Chalupa – Had tons of fillings. Frybread-like shell. Jillian Michaels screaming at a taco. Crisp, fresh toppings. Lots of nacho cheese sauce. The feeling of victory when I conquered the whole thing. Border Salsas – Had lots of flavor depth. Actual fire-roasted tomatoes used in Fire-Roasted. Squirting Taco Bell sauce onto a hot dog. Little char flecks. Verde had great mix of twang and spice. Great tomatillo taste. Taco Bell teaching gringos about tomatillos. Cons:XXL Chalupa â€“ Sour cream unevenly distributed. Fitting into an XXL shirt if I keep eating them. Can be quite messy. Unfair evisceration. Soggy red tortilla strips. Heartburn. Border Salsas â€“ The fact that I can only get them at Taco Bell and not in gallon jars. Possibility of contracting infectious diseases by sucking on the packets. Gringos thinking “Spanish” and “fancy” mean the same thing. Ketchup.
The problem with regular flat Wheat Thins are that they aren’t very friendly when it comes to being able to play with them.
All I can do with a square Wheat Thin is use it as a paper football replacement or break one in half and use the two pieces to create buckteeth whenever I want to offend rednecks or upset the entire Japanese population by recreating the offensive stereotype of Japanese people found on U.S. World War II propaganda.
But with the new Fire Roasted Tomato Wheat Thins Crunch Stix, I can think of multiple playful possibilities.
Some of the things I can do with the round, three inch long Wheat Thins Crunch Stix include:
1. Playing pick-up sticks.
2. Recreating the Star Wars lightsaber scenes using my now worthless Beanie Babies.
3. Producing an ineffective shiv.
4. Pretending to have walrus tusks.
5. Making any Ken doll anatomically correct.
While the Wheat Thins Crunch Stix are much more fun than their flat, square cousins, I can’t say they’re as addictive. Their fire roasted tomato flavor was nice for the first few stix, but, strangely, the flavor disappeared after chain eating about five of them. It was like my tongue got used to its flavor, much like how my nose has gotten used to my own flatulence.
Once the fire roasted tomato flavor disappeared, they tasted like low sodium Wheat Thins, which are decent when I’m trying to prevent hypertension, but aren’t as addictive as regular Wheat Thins. Speaking of wholesome products, these Wheat Thins Crunch Stix brag about having 11 grams of whole grain per serving. But that isn’t really impressive since a bowl of Cookie Crisp has 8 grams.
Overall, the Fire Roasted Tomato Wheat Thins Crunch Stix are a mediocre snack. Sure, its shape allows me to stick them in every orifice on my body, but I don’t think they have enough flavor on them to disguise the fact I stuck them in every orifice on my body and placed them back on the party tray I got them from.
(Nutrition Facts – 14 pieces/29 grams – 130 calories, 35 grams of fat, 4 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 70 milligrams of potassium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, 2% calcium and 4% iron.)
Item: Fire Roasted Tomato Wheat Thins Crunch Stix Price: $3.00 (on sale) Size: 8 ounces Purchased at: Safeway Rating: 5 out of 10 Pros: Round, thin shape makes them great for sticking in every orifice on my body. More fun then regular Wheat Thins. 11 grams of whole grain per serving. Satisfying crunch. Walruses. Cons: Fire roasted tomato flavor disappears quickly. Not as addictive as regular Wheat Thins. Using regular Wheat Thins to pretend to have buckteeth. Makes a horrible shiv. The value of my Beanie Babies. Hypertension.