July 24, 2011

A cool reception for Dunkin' Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate

Yesterday I struggled to prepare notes and sort my ideas for a review of two varieties of flavored Cheerios. Techniques that have served me since grade school failed to put my thoughts in order. Outlines, idea webs and note cards all failed me.

Suddenly insight burst forth into my head like a cold water balloon: We're in the middle of a massive heat wave sending the mercury arching into triple-digit territory. No one wants to eat breakfast or even talk about it. Foodies just want something cold to take on the sizzling temperatures outside.

I'm no different from any other foodie, so a quick change of gears saw me at Dunkin' Donuts ordering a Frozen Hot Chocolate. A few sips and I needed no idea web to tell me I had one incongruous beverage in my hands.

You could fry an egg on top of a car Saturday, but the Frozen Hot Chocolate kept things from boiling over.
The Frozen Hot Chocolate is little more than an icy example of contradictions. The one in the name is nothing more than a gimmick -- there's obviously nothing hot about this drink, and it would be better named a slushy, or, in Dunkin' Donuts speak, a Chocolate Coolatta.

Moving beyond the label, the flavor unleashes its own set of discrepancies. At first sip, the Frozen Hot Chocolate comes off as intensely sweet and packed with chocolate. It's impossible to keep from immediately sucking up every liquid drop within reach of the straw. Once all the fluid has found its way into your mouth, however, you're left with half a cup of bland ice.

Give it time, and that ice melts into a tepid brown fluid with just a hint of cocoa. The resulting beverage contains just enough vapid flavor to leave you longing for a shot of Hershey's syrup.

At a fundamental level this isn't a problem unique to the Frozen Hot Chocolate. The end of slushies are classically painful experiences, unless you happen to love pastel chunks of ice drained of all their initial syrupy flavor. I harbor absolutely no love for that ice, and I actually find the Frozen Hot Chocolate to be a step below its fruit-slushy brethren at this stage of the sipping game.

While the end of fruit slushies leaves me longing for the strong sugar of a fresh slushy, the end of the Frozen Hot Chocolate had me wishing I'd ordered a milk shake instead. The recently melted chocolate-milk doppelganger in the bottom of my cup left my palate crying out for richness, a richness I quickly realized never actually existed in the Frozen Hot Chocolate. Sure, it was sweet. Yet all that sugar only covered up a lack of depth.

We have an outline for trouble any time the end of a drink makes you wish you'd ordered something else. Things start out all right before dissolving into a lackluster effort worthy of just two sporks out of five.

If you want to order and actually enjoy the Frozen Hot Chocolate, I'd recommend drinking half of it and chucking the rest. The first part of the drink is a completely different story from the second, and maybe you can keep your tongue from ever realizing the depth of flavor it's missing -- you're better off without that flash of insight.

July 9, 2011

Biting into Subway's latest $5 Footlongs

July certainly rolled around quickly this year. It seems like just yesterday Easter Candy graced the store shelves, and already we find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the steamiest of summer months: July, when heat and humidity meet to form sweat rings that last a lifetime.

Don't listen to those fools who say it's time for barbecues and pool parties. It's far too hot for that. No, this is the perfect month to pick up some cheap eats and soak in a restaurant's complimentary air conditioning. Avoiding hot weather is one of the few ways fast food can be beneficial to your health, after all.

Today I'm here to speak of the fast food that loves to brand itself as healthy: Subway. A batch of one-month $5 Footlongs has come and gone without any review on this blog, which is simply unacceptable. Fear not, loyal readers! I've been dutifully sampling these subs as they achieve their temporary discount status, and I'm about to give you a summary of each one. Just beware that you'll likely have to pay more than $5 for a Footlong if you chance to find a previous month's sub still lurking on the menu.

May: Orchard Chicken Salad

I'm not the biggest fan of fruit in my chicken salad, but this mixture of chicken, apples, cranberries, raisins, celery and mayo turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The apples and cranberries were the true stars here, imparting a sweet, juicy tone that managed to avoid completely burying the savory flavors of the chicken and mayo.

My biggest complaint with the salad still stems from all the fruit, though. I didn't feel like I'd eaten a sandwich after finishing my meal. It was too light and fresh for a sub measuring 12 inches. A few more chunks of chicken would have gone a long way toward providing the sustenance my stomach craved.

June: Chipotle Chicken and Cheese

The Chipotle Chicken and Cheese turned out to be a little more up my alley. For those of you who couldn't guess, this sub consisted of chicken, cheese and Subway's Chipotle Southwest Sauce and is toasted. I'd recommend ordering it on flatbread, which is what I did.

I'd also recommend adding extra Chipotle Southwest Sauce and jalapeno peppers. The standard dose of sauce isn't enough to live up to the sub's name, and even extra sauce doesn't quite pack the wallop it should. The peppers will rectify that situation, however, and you'll have a creamy, spicy, cheesy mess that's ideal when paired with a thick ream of napkins.

July: Italian BMT

You'll recognize the Italian BMT from the non $5 Footlong menu. It's basically a premium Spicy Italian -- in addition to the Spicy Italian's Salami and Pepperoni, this month's featured sub contains ham. In other words, in the month of July you can add ham to a Spicy Italian for no extra charge.

You might as well do so, although I find that the ham covers up my favorite pepperoni flavor a bit. That's really the only nit worth picking, and it's more a matter of personal preference than a fatal flaw. Just keep in mind that this sub contains a ton of processed meat. You may need to go into detox for a few days after eating it.

April 23, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Peeps

As I write this, the Easter Bunny is in his Bahamas candy shop putting the finishing touches on Easter baskets for all the good little girls and boys in the world. His work will bring delight tomorrow morning when chocolate rabbits, cream-filled eggs and jellybeans galore grace living rooms throughout the world.

But what about you, the adults? The ones whose lives aren't touched by the hopping joy brought by this hopping holiday hare? You've seen most of the stalwart Easter candy before, and chances are it's starting to look a little dull.

I'm pleased to report that a few new candies have bounded their way onto shelves for this year's Easter season. Today I'll focus on Peeps, those hunks of marshmallow goodness that turned your childhood into a sticky-fingered mess. Recently I noticed a couple of new-age Peeps at the grocery store: Peeps Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallow Chicks and Peeps Sugar-Free Marshmallow Chicks.

We'll be forgoing an in-depth look at sugar-free Peeps -- making Peeps without sugar is like making liquid without water. It's technically possible, but I doubt you'd want to ingest it. Instead, today's critique will be an examination of the chocolate-dipped Peeps.

The idea's a no-brainer once you hear about it. The execution, however, is a little more nuanced than you might expect. You see, chocolate-dipping Peeps doesn't involve simply dousing them in chocolate. Peeps Chocolate-Covered Marshmallow Chicks already have that ground covered. Chocolate-dipped Peeps are only covered in chocolate at the base. The Peep head and body escapes the cocoa vat unaltered.

As a result, the delicious traditional Peep sugar coating is present in abundance, providing plenty of that texture and flavor you remember from your childhood. It's enriched by the chocolate base coating, which adds a Hershey-esque complexity to the taste.

Chocolate dipping the Peeps also blunts the insane sweetness found in the traditional chicks. There's still plenty of confectionery pop in every bite, it's just not as grating. In addition, the chocolate chips in a bit of substance, offering some weight in every nibble. You feel like you actually have something to chew, rather than a phantom mouthful that dissolves after a few seconds.

The downside to the chocolate Peeps is that they come in pared-down packs. Standard Peeps are sold bunched together in packs of five, while Chocolate-Dipped Peeps sit on shelves in packs of three. What's more, they're surrounded by cushioning plastic casing. Apparently the Peep factory doesn't want its fancy-schmancy chocolate damaged.

Half-sized packaging might be a hidden bonus in this case, however. Normally I'm against contracting the size of a product, as it essentially gives the you less for your dollar. In the case of Peeps, though, fewer chicks will probably prevent stomachaches. You don't really need to eat more than three Peeps in a sitting, but it's nearly impossible to keep yourself from eating an entire pack once it's open. This is a case where we need protection from ourselves.

I have to hand it to the chocolate-dipped Peeps, they hit the perfect balance of nostalgic flavor and sugary innovation. I'm naming them this year's must-try Easter candy and handing out a five spork rating out of a possible five. Even if you're not a fan of Peeps, you're bound to find these interesting.

April 18, 2011

Double Bacon, Egg & Cheese at Subway

Hard at work on a sprightly Easter review, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. While counting my jellybeans and cracking into my Cadbury Eggs, an idea kept sprouting in the back of my mind.

I was a little early. There was something I needed to do before preparing an Easter candy extravaganza.

Then it dawned on me. I'd promised you, my loyal readers, a review of Subway's $5 Footlong of the month, the Double Bacon, Egg & Cheese. You may get to try breakfast for lunch all month, but I get to tell you if it's any good.

Omlette you in on the recipe: two fluffy egg patties, four strips of bacon and cheese sit on your choice of bread. While all of Subway's breads are available, there's really only one correct choice, and it's the flatbread. Anything else would swallow up the flavor and texture of the eggs, which would just be silly

This was my first time sampling Subway's flatbread, and it wasn't quite what I expected. It's much more pliant, with a spongy, almost playful texture. I highly recommend it, even if you forgo this particular sub. It's a nice change-up to Subway's usual bread.

The egg patties are enormous in diameter. Seriously, I've seen smaller Frisbees. They're also slightly better than your typical fast-food egg patties: fluffy in their own right and flavorful. They are, however, a bit watery. Still, it's not unpleasant. Don't confuse "watery" with "runny."

My bacon could have used a little more crunch. It was limp rather than crisp. Toasting the sub picked things up a bit, fortunately.

If ever a peppers and onions made a sandwich, this was the one. I topped mine with my personal favorite cocktail of jalapenos, banana peppers and red onions, which added a delicious crispness and captivating level of heat. The vegetables contribute just enough texture to every mouthful, taking what could be a bland bit of biting and turning it into something very satisfying.

It's pretty obvious what Subway's trying to do with the $5 Double Bacon, Egg & Cheese: promote its fledgling breakfast menu. And I recommend taking them up on the offer. At very least it's a good excuse to try the flatbread. At most it will have you leaving the restaurant with your sunny side up. Four sporks out of five.

April 13, 2011

Moe's Spicy Trio Burrito

Bear with me, foodies, as I share a lengthy story about burritos. Trust me when I say it will be worthwhile in the end.

Two weeks ago I visited my local Moe's franchise in hopes of sampling a burrito off of the new Spicy Trio Menu, which is anchored by special jalapeno sour cream and spicy queso. As you may guess, the Spicy Trio is made up of three selections: burrito, quesadilla and rice bowl. The burrito -- what anyone in their right mind would try first -- is stuffed with chicken, rice, black beans and pico de gallo, plus the aforementioned spicy queso and jalapeno sour cream.

Alas, when I walked through the door of Moe's I knew all was not right. The workers behind the counter, who typically greet patrons with a semi-enthusiastic "Welcome to Moe's," were silent, their voices lost in feverish concentration as they busily prepared food. I'm willing to forgive this slight oversight of Moe's etiquette -- they were working hard, after all -- but this slip was definitely foreshadowing things to come.

I reached the counter and placed my order, only to be met with devastating news: there was no more spicy sour cream. The worker behind the counter offered to build my burrito with spicy queso, standard sour cream, jalapenos and cilantro instead. Brokenhearted, I accepted.

Fast forward nine days and I stood back at the same Moe's placing the same order after the workers again failed to greet me -- not that I'm complaining. The restaurant was extremely busy.

But being a food critic is tough work. My return to Moe's in the face of no greetings stands as a shining example of the fact that I'm willing to doggedly pursue the subjects of my reviews for the sake of you, my loyal readers. I'm proud to report the dedication paid off. The restaurant had both jalapeno sour cream and spicy queso for my burrito the second time around.

All this back story basically means I'm able to evaluate the individual impacts of the spicy queso and jalapeno sour cream -- a position I wouldn't be in if I hadn't tasted the burrito with and without said sour cream. Burritos are great at mashing up ingredients and confusing flavors, after all.

For starters, I can tell you that the jalapeno sour cream is good but not earth-shattering. Being both a sour cream and jalapeno enthusiast, I was ready for the worker building my meal to spoon on gobs of the sour cream to smother my burrito in a creamy-yet-hot symphony. Instead she picked up a bottle -- the kind they keep ketchup in -- and squirted some sour cream on my burrito. That spread out the cream and left me wanting more densely packed areas.

The spicy queso, on the other hand, is positively glorious. It's cheesy, hot and gooey, leaving every bite slathered in fantastic flavor. I could rave about it for paragraph upon paragraph, but I'll spare you from any long-winded odes. Just go out and try some for yourself.

In the end, I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that the spicy queso is stronger than jalapeno sour cream. After all, queso and heat go together like peas and carrots. And you can't run away from a match made in heaven.

Four sporks out of five for the Spicy Burrito. If I'd been able to get both jalapeno sour cream and spicy queso on my first visit, this could easily have been a five-spork item.

To be honest a little welcome as I walked in the door wouldn't have hurt matters, either.

March 30, 2011

Subway Meatball Pepperoni

With April just around the corner, Subway is getting ready to introduce a new Featured $5 Footlong -- bumping a new sub into temporary placement on the $5 Footlong menu. Next month's sub du jour will be the Double Bacon, Egg and Cheese, which looks to be worth scrambling to your nearest sub shop to try.

Naturally, that means I'm ready to review the Meatball Pepperoni -- March's $5 Footlong.

Don't look at it as tardiness on my part. Look at it as my sparing you from another litany of egg jokes after beating you up with too much ovular humor in last week's Snicker's Egg post. Look at it as having a full day left to try the Meatball Pepperoni, if what I'm about to describe catches your fancy.

Should it catch your fancy? That depends on how much you like the standard Subway Meatball Marinara. Because to be honest with you, the pepperoni layered on the bottom of the sub is like the acting in a Nicholas Cage movie: It contributes so little that it might as well not be there.

Before you drive away angrily, let me tell you the sub's undoubtedly good. Subway's venerable meatballs and stalwart marinara sauce form the rock of the components, delivering a very satisfying spaghetti-outlet flavor. Get it toasted, like I did, and your provolone cheese will melt and infuse goodness throughout the sauce.

What won't be infused is pepperoni taste. The treated meat makes a few cameo appearances when you find a bite that's short on sauce, but it largely loses its face off with the bigger flavors on the bun and plays apprentice to the sorcery of the meatballs. At times I almost forgot I was eating March's Featured Footlong and thought I had accidentally ordered off of the standard $5 menu.

Perhaps the only major difference the pepperoni delivers is negative. It makes the sub harder to bite -- the lunch meat straddles the space between meatballs and is difficult to gnaw in half, resulting in some situations where you have to yank the pepperoni out from under a meatball in order to take your bite. As you can imagine, this is a treacherous situation similar to jerking the tablecloth out from under a full set of china -- only instead of breaking the china, a misstep will soil your shirt.

Flipping the sub and eating it upside down doesn't rectify the problem, either. The pepperoni still maintains traction on the meatballs, inching them toward your spotless clothing with each nibble and threatening that the cleanliness of your shirt will be gone in 60 seconds. If nothing else, it makes lunch exciting.

Knowing all that, I can assert that the Meatball Pepperoni isn't bad, per say. It's just a virtual flavor clone of the Meatball Marinara. Something with pepperoni needs to be more to be more than that. Three sporks out of five.

Bring the lunch meat into the spotlight by slathering on more pepperoni or fix the eating issues gnawing at the sub, and we'd have a footlong that might be worth labeling a national treasure.

March 24, 2011

Snickers Egg

With us hopping down the trail toward Easter and seasonal candy packing the store shelves, it's time we take a peep at some holiday candy.

But what to review? Jellybeans are passe. I've covered the Cadbury Creme Egg in words and Marshmallow Peeps in photos. It's too early to break down a full-sized chocolate bunny.

What we need, foodies, is to lay into a different kind of Easter candy -- something familiar enough to keep us perched in comfort, but different enough to crack a few boring habits. For some reason I'm inclined to stay within the comfortable shell of candy eggs, so I've hatched a quick review of the Snickers Egg. It should go over easy, right?

Those of you unfamiliar with the Snickers Egg should be able to picture one without much trouble. Take a Snickers Bar and shrink it a little. Mold it into a decorative egg shape. Send it to roost in stores in the spring. Voila.

Although the flavors of a standard Snickers are all present, you'd be a yolkel to think eating the egg is just like eating a Snickers bar. For starters, the egg is lighter on peanuts than its fraternal brethren. Caramel is also less prevalent.

As a result, each bite of the Snickers egg is filled with plenty of nougat. When you think about a regular Snickers, you might not find yourself wanting for more nougat. You will after eating the egg which impresses with a chocolaty yet creamy flavor. The eating experience is aided by the peanuts which assume a supporting role instead of taking center stage. They're very comfortable in that spot, almost as if they were born -- nay, hatched -- for it.

Far from large, the egg will still leave you satisfied. Ambitious eaters will be able to finish it in three or four bites, which is just about right for a novelty candy like this. You don't want your Easter egg scrambling your stomach on Sunday morning.

The egg's exterior is a nice blend of Easterly lines and dots that puts other springtime candy like the Reese's Egg and Cadbury Egg to shame. The wrapper, however, doesn't keep up with some of its nest mates on the candy shelf. It makes an attempt at bright vernal imagery but seems middling and messy at best.

The Snickers Egg is a hard-boiled competitor in the world of Easter candy. It's not the most imaginative remix of Snickers and Easter you could come up with, but it's a nice omelet of chocolate, peanuts, caramel and nougat. A very fluffy three sporks out of five.

March 10, 2011

Good luck holding on to your Shamrock Shake

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, I was eager to down a bright green Shamrock Shake from McDonald's. Nothing says March 17 in America like the amalgamation of milkshake, mint, emerald food dye, shameless capitalism and fast food, after all.

Imagine my shock when my shake arrived not nestled in the comfort of its familiar paper cup of yesteryear, but held rigidly in a clear plastic McCafe container. Apparently you can now order this St. Patty's Day classic topped with whipped cream and a cherry -- a puzzling option available across the Mickey D's shake lineup.

My distrust for the McCafe series is well-documented on this blog. The idea just doesn't seem to fit the M.O. of the house that Ronald built: Classing up McDonald's with fancy-looking cups and special cafe areas seems as off-balance as the hot chocolate they hawk. I go to McDonald's for my $1 burgers, not for my taste of West-coast coffee shop.

If juxtaposing a cafe into McDonald's introduces discord into the restaurant world, McCafe milkshakes are downright oxymoronic. These shakes aren't made with coffee and they have as much in common with a cafe as your local Baskin Robbins. McIceCreamShoppe would have been better branding.

All that notwithstanding, the new cup has some serious functional drawbacks, namely its plastic construction. When the old paper cups got cold, they maintained a homey comfort. They were an organic product, and the gentle bend of their soggy paper felt good in your hand. These new plastic mugs, by contrast, become clammy and slippery after a few minutes of holding the shake. Grasping them isn't easy, and it certainly isn't comfortable. They're synthetic -- manufactured -- like the whole McCafe experience.

Fortunately the good stuff inside the cup is unchanged. Provided, that is, you use proper judgment and forgo the whipped topping and cherry. I, for one, kept the jade purity of my shake intact by refusing the crimson imperialism of the fruit.

My advice is to ignore the newfangled packaging around your Shamrock Shake this St. Patrick's Day and enjoy the minty goodness inside. The packaging change nets a mortifying zero sporks out of five. And if the Irish have any luck, this plastic cup won't be coming back next year.

March 8, 2011

vitaminwater stur-D

I was planning on writing about the act of freezing yogurt to create a sweet treat for tonight's food review, but it didn't seem fair here on the eve of Lent. Those of you who will be fasting tomorrow or using Ash Wednesday to start a new pie-in-the-sky diet -- does anyone actually manage to give up sweets for the full 40 days? -- would hardly appreciate that, however.

Ever mindful of my loyal foodie followers, I've switched gears with a review of one of the latest vitaminwater flavors: stur-D. I hope you all appreciate that this is a bit of a pre-Lenten sacrifice for me. Glaceau, maker of vitaminwater, sees fit to run roughshod over standard rules of capitalization when naming products, making reviews of vitaminwater a painful experience for those of us who like pressing the shift key.

Drinking stur-D is somewhat less of a painful experience, fortunately. The beverage combines blue agave, passion fruit and citrus flavors in a bright blue liquid that's stranger to look at than it is to drink. If you can get past the fact that it looks like you're about to guzzle a liquefied Smurf, stur-D makes a tasty beverage.

Let me get the prerequisite disclaimer out of the way: vitaminwater is not packed with flavor. Do not confuse it with soda, fruit juice or flavored Seltzer Water and do not expect it to have the same strong taste as these aforementioned liquids. Evaluate it for what it is -- a washed-out tasting drink -- and you can enjoy it.

Having said that, I can tell you stur-D is one of the more flavorful iterations of vitaminwater. It's about as close to full-fledged fruit-juice flavor as the brand gets, and it fills that role without any major flavor imbalances. I find it to start a little on the sweet side, but some subtle citrus notes flare up at the end of each swallow to mute the sugary tones and leave a somewhat-crisp finish. It's a much more successful use of citrus than vitaminwater energy, which amps up the sour to near-grapefruit levels.

So how does this hypnotically colored drink fare in the realm of sporks? Pretty well, it turns out. Four sporks out of five. Dial down the sweetness, bump up the citrus a tad and ratchet back the color tone so that it doesn't remind me of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and we could have a perfect beverage on our hands.

March 1, 2011

Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito

Taco Bell may have created the eighth wonder of the processed food world when it placed the Beefy Crunch Burrito on its menu. A tortilla joins ground beef, rice, nacho cheese, sour cream and Flamin' Hot Fritos to create one of the biggest "Are you serious?" food's I've seen behind the fast-food counter.

That's right, foodies. Taco Bell's ground beef, the composition of which has been questioned recently by a lawsuit -- the suit says the meat is composed of only 35% beef, while The Bell's CEO claims that number is 88% -- wasn't enough processed fodder for this bad-boy burrito. Fritos corn chips, which have a label reading like the glossary of a collegiate chemistry textbook, had to be thrown on top.

To be fair, Fritos do contain corn, according to the label. But anyone who's tasted them knows they aren't exactly fresh off the cob. This combination sounds like it could be something straight out of a science fiction novel: more plastic than organic. So how did this conglomeration of prepackaged, processed gobbledygook taste to the mouth?

Pretty darn good, actually. While I can't vouch for whether it pickled my intestines, it tickled my taste buds in pleasing ways.

The rice, sour cream, beef and cheese all mesh in a tried-and-true combination of salty flavor that runs through much of Taco Bell's food. And the Fritos add just about the perfect amount of texture.

Don't get me wrong -- they aren't crunchy. All that gooey cheese and soft sour cream quickly saturates the Fritos, neutralizing their natural (?) crunch. Even so, they retain a hint of crispness that's satisfying enough to bite into but not hard enough to pierce your gums. That's a major plus. There's nothing worse than a stray shard of tortilla or taco shell digging itself haphazardly between your teeth as you chomp on your Taco Bell.

The Fritos come up a little shorter in the spicy department. Flamin' Hot may be their prefix, but fiery spice ain't the name of their game. I've tasted hotter oyster crackers. Even so, they added a hint of flavor to the meal.

Once all the pros and cons are processed, the Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito wraps up a very solid three-and-a-half sporks out of five. I could have used a little more spice to live up to the name, and this concoction is screaming for a stray chunk of lettuce or two to add an organic touch. In the end, though, who cares if it's grown in the ground or molded in a factory? Does it matter whether the beef is actually made of cows? This tastes like a winner.

February 15, 2011

Frosted Mini Wheats Touch of Fruit in the Middle

I have a personal adage that eating Frosted Mini Wheats directly from the box will leave you high and dry. The cereal is absolutely delicious, but it sucks up moisture to the point that you can't eat more than a few cubes unless you reconstitute them in a bowl of milk.

That's a big downfall, as many of the best cereals are at least as good when dry than when drenched in dairy. Reese's Puffs, Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes -- I'd just as soon eat all of them straight from the box as in a bowl.

This shortcoming always left Mini Wheats playing from behind in competitions for best cereal. Today that's changed, though. Frosted Mini Wheats Touch of Fruit in the Middle, a new variation on the tried-and-true shredded wheat, make for great snacking from the hand.

Aside from the ungainly name, Frosted Mini Wheats Fruit in the Middle are an attractive package. Take your standard rectangular prism of shredded wheat, top it with the familiar snowy-roof header of frosting, then stuff it with purple berry flavoring.

The result is a little less berry than I'd like -- it's more grape jelly than the blackberry patch -- but is still very appealing. Each bite-sized Mini Wheat imparts plenty of sweetness and a nice touch of fruit. Even better, the normal dryness of shredded wheat is staved off by the new filling.

Drowning the Mini Wheats in milk doesn't ruin the flavor, either. Where before the frosting and sweetness washed off Mini Wheats when they swam in the drink too long, now the sugar in the center sticks around. It also refrains from turning the milk purple, an added bonus for those of us who like our milk as pristine as possible.

For all their strengths, Frosted Mini Wheats Fruit in the Middle are unlikely to sway the anti-shredded-wheat caucus. Despite all the dressings, they're still shredded wheat, which can be too dry for some. The fruit filling has its own weakness as well, in that it comes up a little lame on the berry flavoring scale. I've been enjoying several other cereals packed with dried fruit lately, such as Kashi's Go Lean Crisp! Toasted Berry Crumble, and these Mini Wheats shrivel like a raisin in the sun in comparison to those fruit flavors.

Those criticisms amount to nothing more than pits in cherries, though -- you just have to eat around them. All nits aside, these Mini Wheats score an impressive four sporks out of five. And for the first time a Mini Wheat in the hand is worth two in some milk.

February 7, 2011

Stuffing in the flavor with the BK Steakhouse

Still stuffed from the Super Bowl? Or is food starting to sound appetizing again after your big-game binge of chips, dip, brats, chili, wings, pizza and everything else you found at the gridiron gorging party?

I'm betting on hunger starting to take the place of NFL-led indigestion in your belly. But last night's heavy food probably left you feeling sloth-like, so you'll probably want to head out for some fast food. Lucky you. Burger King is pushing a mouth-catching burger.

I speak of the Jalapeno and Cheddar Stuffed Steakhouse Burger, a meal with a name that needs little explanation. You could argue that the burger isn't stuffed insomuch as it is mixed -- little bits of pepper and cheese are sprinkled throughout a ground-beef patty rather than inhabiting a pocket at the center -- but we won't go large with this complaint.

Lettuce and tomato top the burger, as does something Burger King calls "spicy poblano sauce." Poblanos are typically a fairly mild pepper, so the adjective was necessary to tip us off to the fact that the sauce has a little bit of heat.

The whole burger is best described as having a little bit of heat, actually. The spice of the jalapenos is largely swallowed up by the mishmash of cooling cheddar and greasy red meat, leaving the poblano sauce to deliver most of the zing. The sauce does admirably, imparting a taste that is both zesty and smooth. So smooth, in fact, that it's almost cheesy.

Don't make the mistake of thinking the jalapenos are worthless, however. They add a nice texture to the burger. I'd be lying if I said they were crunchy -- and you wouldn't believe me -- but they definitely add some interest to the normally mundane world of overly processed fast-food burgerdom.

Those stuffed chunks of cheese pop up from time to time as well, although I found them less satisfying than the pepper pieces. You can go several bites without getting a lump of cheddar big enough to add any flavor, then you're overwhelmed when you bite into a behemoth. I'd prefer to see a slice of cheddar laid over the burger for better balance.

This burger isn't about balance, for better or worse. It's bold, beefy, and stuffed with entertaining flavors. While those flavors don't always work in perfect harmony, the eating experience is interesting enough to net four sporks out of five.

I would, however, recommend a roll of Tums. While the Steakhouse isn't spicy enough to merit heartburn, you can never coddle your tummy too much in the days after the Super Bowl.

January 12, 2011

Snickers Peanut Butter Squared

When is a square not a square? Why, when it's a Snickers, of course.

I speak of Snickers Peanut Butter Squared, one of the most aggravating candies I've ever torn into. It packs some decent packaging -- the wrapper helpfully suggests twisting it closed to preserve half of the candy, and said wrapper actually stays shut after twistage. But this innocuous-looking Snickers also reflects a dangerous move in the world of candy.

Snickers Peanut Butter Squared takes a nefarious trend in sweets and wraps it in a cute name. Several candy bars rolled out recently have not come packaged as traditional single bars, but as two small bars in one wrapper. It sounds useful enough -- the two bars give you the option of saving one for later.

Sadly, the only people going to re-wrap a bar for later are those who've recently had bariatric surgery or who are misguidedly trying to tackle a New Year's resolution to lose weight ... but still eating Snickers. Look at it from the candy company's perspective, and you'll see that Snickers saves a great deal of candy with the two-bar format. Each Snickers Squared weighs 1.78 oz. Each standard Snickers bar weighs 2.07 oz.

That's a difference of 0.29 oz. per bar, which sounds minimal until you consider the thousands upon thousands of Snickers sold each year. It adds up to the eater being gypped out of a considerable amount of chocolate while the candy company pockets a pretty penny. Snickers Squared isn't the only example of this dastardly plan, as 3 Musketeers Mint bars have been doing it for quite some time. Snickers is, however, the latest attempt wrapped in a cute name.

Speaking of the name, it's another black mark on the bar. The marketers at Snickers apparently failed geometry, because Snickers Squared bars aren't squares. Squares are flat, while Snickers Squared bars are three-dimensional cubes. Come on Snickers! At least educate eaters while you withhold candy from them!

You won't learn much about the taste of peanut butter with these bars, either. The title ingredient is buried in there somewhere, but it's largely overshadowed by the real peanuts and caramel. These things should be slathered in peanut butter rather than running from the taste like Captain Hook fleeing the ticking crocodile.

It's too bad, because once you get past the blemishes, the bars aren't an unpleasant eating experience. The flavors are fairly well balanced, and I'd probably rate this as a good snack -- three sporks out of five -- if not for the fact that it comes in the Scrooge-like double bar format and fails in every way at living up to the "Peanut Butter Squared" emblazoned on the wrapper.

I'm most interested in penalizing that miserable double-bar design, and Snickers Peanut Butter Squared pays the price with a shameful one spork out of five rating. I will continue to heavily penalize candy bars utilizing the weight-saving two-bar format. It isn't thinking outside the box. It's looking eaters square in the eye and insulting us.