Category Archives: Junk Food

Athens Hors d’oeuvres Chipotle Cheese in Black Bean Fillo Shells

Athens Hors d'oeuvres Chipotle Cheese Black Bean Fillo ThumbI found these new Athens Hors d’oeuvres, which I will from here on call Hors to avoid spelling errors, in my grocer’s freezer section, filling up the space that my beloved  Joy of Cooking products had once occupied. Once my rageful pounding on the glass of the freezer door had subsided and the opaque red film had faded from my vision, I took a closer look at them. I am a sucker for most foods Mediterranean, and my love of appetizers is legendary, so if you name your company Athens and start talking about Hors, I can’t help but show some interest.

Athens Hors d'oeuvres Chipotle Cheese Black Bean Fillo Front

Chipotle Cheese and Black Bean seems an odd choice for a decidedly Greek-sounding product, which is, of course, why I chose them. I also chose the spinach and feta variety, but who wants to hear about them. It’s much more fun to mock a Greek appetizer that’s trying to be Mexican.

Athens Hors d'oeuvres Chipotle Cheese Black Bean Fillo Back

There are six varieties of Hors, and I will list them for you, as well as a brief comment regarding how appropriate they are in the realm of Greek appetizers, summoned up by an extremely arbitrary rating system:

  • Mediterranean Vegetables in Corn Fillo Shells – I don’t normally associate corn with fillo, but they get a pass for using the word “Mediterranean”. 3 gyros.
  • Chipotle Cheese in Black Bean Fillo Shells – There is nothing Greek about this at all, but at least they used fillo (or at least the word) and didn’t just go with a mini tostada shell. 0.5 gyros.
  • Spinach and Feta in Traditional Fillo Shells – See, now we’re talking. This is all Greek, all the time, and they didn’t even fuck with the fillo. 5 gyros.
  • Artichoke and Cheese in Spinach Fillo Shells – Still pretty traditional, but anything Greek without feta is a small crime. 4 gyros.
  • Three Cheese in Tomato Fillo Shells – Feels like they’re kind of phoning it in on this one. Tweak it a little and it could be a Tostinos Pizza Roll. 2 gyros.
  • Salmon and Cheese in Traditional Fillo Shells – The type of cheese isn’t specified, but I’m going to assume it’s cream cheese, and these guys are a hit in the Jewish community. 1 gyro.

But enough of this. We’ve only got one flavor on the table today, and it’s the Greek/Mexican fusion that is becoming all the rage amongst the hipster crowd. Or haven’t your heard? Well, let’s check these little puppies out.

Athens Chipotle Frozen

Aw, they come in a cute little tray, each with its own cup so that nobody has to fight over space or possibly cultural tensions. Hard to see if they’ll come out looking like the picture on the front of the box, at this point. The box describes them as “zesty chipotle cheese with red and green bell peppers, plus a dash of lime juice, cumin and cilantro”. I have to say, they sound more appetizing than most supposedly authentic frozen Mexican foods. I’m looking at you,  José Olé.

The box commands me to bake them at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes. Microwaving is not recommended, you lazy assholes. I assume microwaving them would result in a lovely mess of molten cheese and completely mushy fillo. I always obey the box.

I only cooked four out of the 12 that come in the box. I thought that would showcase my delicate feminine appetite, until I read the back of the box and saw that the suggested serving size is two. I guess that is why they are Hors d’whatevers and not a Hungry Man dinner. Of course, the back of the box also suggests that you can turn them into a light meal. Whether or not they imply that the suggested serving size of two is a light meal (anorexic ladies, I’m looking at you!), or that the whole box of 12 is a light meal (bulimic ladies, I’m looking at you!), I haven’t a clue. But I’m going to stand behind my choice of four and not get neurotic about what kind of meal portion choice I’m making.

Athens Hors d'oeuvres Chipotle Cheese Black Bean Fillo Done

Not quite as lively as the front of the box would indicate, but that’s to be expected. The top of the cheese looks shriveled, but the fillo cups are crisp and crunchy, holding up quite nicely. The smell is cheesy, the kind of processed cheese odor that wafts off of your typical microwaved nacho cheese sauce.

They taste disappointingly generic. The crunch of the fillo is a nice contrast to the squishy cheese, but make sure you have a plate, because if you’re not going to eat it in one bite, the flaky dough is going to go flying everywhere when you bite into it. I’ll halfheartedly back up their claims of “zesty”, but their enticing description on the front of the box pretty much ends there, in terms of validity. The cheese filling could be pretty much any other cheese filling from any other frozen food product. When I think chipotle, I think smoky, and there’s no hint of that. The lime and cilantro are also disappointingly absent from the party. I’ll give the bell peppers some credit, if only because there was a hint of that “zesty” in there, just enough to keep it from tasting like bland cheese filling. I actually thought I caught a hint of black bean, so I broke off some of the fillo to eat on its own, but the fillo itself was flavorless. It’s possible they added some black bean flavoring to the cheese itself, which gave it just a hint of depth.

Basically, Athens Hors d’oeuvres Chipotle Cheese in Black Bean Fillo Shells are more of a mindless junk food than an elegant Hor that you can present to all your guests at your elegant dinner party. Something you can pop into the oven and eat 20 minutes later while you sit in front of the TV and watch reruns of Three’s Company. Squishy cheese in a crunchy shell; it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just something you eat at 1pm on a Saturday to tide you over until it’s time to order a pizza. You could substitute a dozen other frozen appetizers and get the same result – I ate something, it had an okay flavor, now my stomach will shut up for a couple of hours.

  • Score: 2.5 out of 5 Hors
  • Price: $5.79
  • Size: 12 pieces (5.9 oz.)
  • Purchased at: Albertsons #980
  • Nutritional Quirks: Ingredients contain chipotle powder, lime juice, cumin, cilantro, and black bean powder, yet none can be tasted.

Tostitos Prepáralos a Tu Gusto Salsa Verde (Tostilocos)

If you don’t live in the southwestern region of the United States, you may have never heard of the Sabritas line of potato chips. Originally its own brand, it is now a subsidiary of Frito-Lay, and controls a large share of Mexico’s snack market. In Arizona, Mexican snacks are widely available in national chain stores, and one of my local convenience stores has a whole section of Sabritas chips.

Tostitos Preparalos a Tu Gusto Front

I have to admit, I didn’t really do my in-store research when I bought these chips. When I saw the festive and very Mexican front of the bag, and saw that I could create my own combination, I thought things might get interesting. For you gringos, “prepáralos a tu gusto” doesn’t really translate into “create your own combination”, but instead roughly translates into “prepare to your liking (or loving, literally)”. Those two years of Spanish in high school are really serving me well. They get even more lax down in the bottom left corner, where “totopos de maíz con chile”(Corn tortilla chips with chile) becomes “flavored tortilla chips”. Us gringos can’t handle anything more descriptive than “flavored”.

I thought that maybe there would be some flavor packets inside, a la Doritos Flavor Shots, which would be fun to mix and match, adding to the already salsa verde-flavored chips. However, I was in for a surprise when I got home:

Tostitos Preparalos a Tu Gusto Back

What the fuck, Tostitos? Instead of including everything I’d need to create my own combination, they are expecting me to take these home and turn them into nachos? What’s the point of that? Furthermore, who would even do that? You buy a bag of chips at the convenience store, you’re probably stuffing your face as you drive to work, not going home to make some sad nachos in a bag. No, seriously, who would do that?

The answer: Mexicans. I saw the phrase “tostilocos” on the back of the bag and thought that Tostitos was trying to make their own catch phrase, like Combos’ ludicrous “combivore” campaign. I got excited, thinking I could salvage this review with some screenshots from a ridiculously themed Tostitos website. I was in for a big surprise when I consulted my friendly neighborhood search engine.

Tostilocos are a very real, very Mexican thing. According to my extensive Internet research, in Tijuana (and possibly other parts of Mexico, I’m not sure), there are street carts set up all around the city, selling these tostilocos. They do basically what the back of the bag says: they take a bag of tortilla chips, slit it open along the side, and fill it with whatever you want. From what I’ve read, some of the most traditional ingredients include peanuts, jicama, cucumber, tamarind or tamarind candy, a liberal lime juice, and even pork rinds, as I read in this blog. I don’t want to use anyone’s pictures without permission, so here are some links to tostilocos-related items.

The back of the bag has some very different suggestions for additions to your tostilocos: salsa, sour cream, cheese and jalapeños. After my learning experience, I’d love to try some traditional tostilocos, but coincidentally, I have zero of the ingredients for that and all of the ingredients listed on the back of the bag, so I guess I’ll go with that.

Tostitos Salsa Verde

Cutting open the bag was easy, and I was happy to see that it stood up on its own. I decided to try the chips by themselves, before I went tostiloco and added all the ingredients. The chips themselves are actually pretty good; they come in the traditional Tostitos round shape and have a pleasant cheesy/spicy flavor with a bit of peppery bite on the back end. I wouldn’t say it tastes exactly like dipping a tortilla chip into a bowl of fresh salsa verde, but the chile flavor is there. I would feel just fine buying a bag of these to tear open in the more conventional manner to shovel into my face during a road trip, or just sitting my lazy ass down in front of the tv. But the real point of these, chips, apparently, is to go tostiloco, and who am I to disobey the back of a bag of chips.

Tostitos Tostilocos

After I added all the ingredients, the weight of the bag of chips increased about threefold. I felt like I was hefting a real meal, not just an absent-minded snack. The bag held together wonderfully, still standing up like a trooper after I added all the ingredients. For the sake of open journalism, I’ll list all of the specific ingredients I added: Table Top medium salsa, Daisy sour cream, Sargento Artisan Blends Authentic Mexican (Queso Quesadilla, Asadero, Queso Gallego, Manchego and Anejo Enchilado), and Embasa Nacho Sliced Jalepeños.

It’s a little unwieldy to eat. I have tiny, delicate, feminine hands, and even so, I found it difficult to really dig into the bag without getting my knuckles and fingers covered in salsa juice and sour cream. As I move the bag around, my carefully constructed toppings begin to redistribute themselves, covering all the chips and ensuring that my hands will never be clean again. I hope they give out napkins at the tostiloco carts in Mexico, because otherwise there’s a lot of people walking around with sour cream and salsa hands, terrorizing the local children who are just trying to sell you chicle.

Tostiloco Close-Up

At the end of the day, my tostilocos are nothing more than half-ass nachos made in a bag of Tostitos. There’s nothing not to enjoy about the combination of tortilla chips, salsa, sour cream, cheese, and jalapeños, but it’s really nothing to write home about. My chips got a little soggy after a while, but that’s okay, since my hand was coated with all the toppings by then anyway, so I didn’t mind just mushing the chip and putting it in my mouth, as I have no dignity. Soggy tortilla chips are not that great, but they were a little more acceptable with all the toppings on them. As I write this review and continue to shovel tostilocos into my mouth, I notice that I’m getting a little full. I looked on the back of the bag, and it says that there are six servings of chips in this bag. How are you supposed to do that, exactly? Chuck your sad, slit-open bag of Tostitos into the fridge to eat soggy mush with a spoon later? I guess I should have invited over five friends so we could have a tostilocos party. Nothing says wild and crazy times like a small bag of chips I bought at a gas station and some shit I found in the back of my fridge.

The salsa verde flavor of the chips adds a nice compliment to the toppings, but you could substitute just about any spicy-flavored tortilla chip to get the same effect. I’m willing to bet that the tostilocos that they make in Mexico have a much more interesting and varied flavor than the ones recommended on the back of the bag. As it stands, with just a little more effort, you could make some real nachos at your house, on a real plate, without having to become the dreaded sour cream hand monster with a bag full of mess.

Tostilocos Mess

  • Score: 3 out of 5 niños selling chicle for the chips alone; 2 out of 5 napkins for the tostilocos
  • Price: $1.99, not including toppings
  • Size: 5 1/2 oz. bag
  • Purchased at: Circle K
  • Nutritional Quirks: There may be six servings in a bag, but if you make tostilocos, whatever you don’t eat then is lost forever.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal

Banquet LogoI have always equated Banquet frozen dinners with times of depressing poverty, and for good reason. They are small, cheap, and made almost entirely of inorganic matter, but when you’re flat broke, it’s something you can put in your mouth and pretend it’s real food. You don’t like it, but at least it’s a break from the constant stream of mushy ramen.

All of Banquet’s selections seem equally unappealing, which is why I did a double take when I saw this at my local grocery store.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Box

It’s like they’re not even trying to make this abomination seem in any way attractive to the human palate. First off, let’s deconstruct the name. “Cheesy” implies that there may be something cheese-like involved, but in no way makes any promises that there will be real cheese. I’m guessing that in this case, “cheesy” actually translates to “melted plastic dyed orange”.

“Smothered” would be a lovely descriptive word if you were sitting in a restaurant, perusing the menu and reading the description of their homemade chicken fried steak. Here, “smothered” brings forth nightmarish images of some Banquet executive silently creeping into my room at night, a pillow gripped tight in his sweaty palms, a rictus, maniacal grin on his face as he hovers over my slumbering, innocent form.

“Meat Patty” immediately sets off alarms. It’s not meatloaf, it’s not roast beef, it’s…”meat patty”. According to the USDA’s website, “The definition of “meat” was amended in December 1994 to include as “meat” product derived from advanced meat/bone separation machinery which is comparable in appearance, texture and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand. Product produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery can be labeled using terms associated with hand-deboned product, e.g., pork trimmings and ground pork.”

Strangely, the ingredients list on the box lists the components of the meat patty and the cheese sauce together, so it’s impossible to tell what’s in which. All I can suss out is that the meat patty contains beef, pork, and a mysterious mix of approximately 38 other ingredients, some of which are chemicals that would cause me to lose the state spelling bee. I guess I’ll pretend the meat patty is made of beef and pork, and the other 37 ingredients are in the cheese sauce. Wait, that’s not comforting at all.

You’d think the word “Meal” wouldn’t conjure any feelings of dread, but after the first four words, it somehow becomes an ominous caboose on this haunted word train of doom. I mean, truth in advertising is great and all, but couldn’t you have named it something a little more obscuring, like “Happy Funtime Meat-o-Rama with Awesome Sauce”? At least let the sad sacks who are buying this shit to delude themselves a little. There’s no reason to throw their poor life decisions back in their faces with the name of your frozen dinner alone.

Furthermore, as if the name of this meal didn’t tell you everything you never wanted to know about it, Banquet feels that further clarification is needed, and goes on to say, “Grilled Meat Patty Smothered with Cheddar Cheese Sauce with Mashed Potatoes and Bacon Bits.” My beef (probably the only beef you’ll actually find here) with their use of the same preposition twice aside, I noticed something curious: the phrasing leads you to believe that the mashed potatoes contain Bacon Bits, but in the picture, the mashed potatoes appear to contain no such thing, while the cheese sauce has little pieces of bacon in it. At least, they look sort of like pieces of bacon. God I hope that’s bacon.

So, what the fuck, Banquet? What world of madness is going on here? Who am I supposed to believe, the words or the picture?

Speaking of the picture, here we have yet more evidence that the Banquet marketing team was high off their asses when they created Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal. I’ve seen pictures in 1960’s cookbooks of hot dogs and pickles encased in Jell-o that look more attractive than this abomination. It looks like the winner of Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest drank a gallon of Sunny D and vomited onto the bowel movement of an alcoholic hobo who just accidentally stepped in his own mess. The mashed potatoes look like mashed potatoes, but you aren’t noticing that, because you’re transfixed by the hideous apparition the foreground that Banquet is trying to convince you is safe for human consumption. For the first time in my life, I’m convinced that the food inside this box must look better than the “food” pictured on the front of the box. As much as I don’t want to, I guess it’s time to find out if that’s true or not.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Frozen

To remain true to the cooking instructions, I can’t peel back the plastic just yet to see what’s underneath, but here’s a sneak peak. The neon orange color of the frozen cheese tells a forlorn tale of loss and destitution. The mashed potatoes look like recycled paper pulp.

Time to cook. I am instructed by the box, which I already hate and mistrust, to slit the cover over the potatoes and microwave on high for 2 ½ minutes. Then I have to open the cover and “Rotate patty a half turn. Spoon sauce over patty and stir potatoes”. I am afraid I will lose my morning coffee and add it to the cheese sauce upon peeling back the plastic and smelling this beast. I am afraid of Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal in general.

You know what I’m more afraid of, though? I’m afraid I might actually like it. It would seem an impossible feat, but what if everything I know about the universe is wrong, and I find myself enjoying my meat patty? What kind of person does that make me? What maximum security mental institution would dare take on such a twisted, deranged mind?

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty

On first glance, my fears of enjoyment will most likely be unfounded. It’s much less odoriferous than I anticipated – there’s a tangy, not-so-pleasant fake cheese smell, but you actually do get a bit of fake bacon smell underneath that. I did not vomit. Yet. I also did not add any salt or pepper. Usually, I add a shit-ton of both to any frozen dinner I eat, but for the sake of SCIENCE, I will experience Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal in all of its naked glory.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Close-Up

The cheese glistens sickeningly atop the meat patty, pools of grease already forming on the outer edges of the compartment. Tendrils of cheese cling to the sides, as if trying to escape and form into some sort of terrible fake-cheese golem that will come after me and attempt to assimilate my body into the hulking beast’s. It manages to be both greasy and clumpy, falling off my fork in misshapen blobs. It is in no way a sauce.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Cut

Immediately, there are textural problems for me. It’s like a sponge with a thick coating of melted vinyl. When you bite down, there is no sensation that you are biting into a piece of meat. I imagine this is the sensation a komodo dragon feels as it rips into the bloated corpse of a long-dead wild boar. There is no resistance.

The cheese slides around my mouth like I just bit off a clump of Nickelodeon slime. I keep taking bites, hoping to be able to describe to you what it tastes like, but it is an eldritch horror not of this world, for which the English language has no words. It is not overpowering at first, as you might think, but instead is stealthy, slowly building. Each bite compounds an uneasy feeling that radiates down my throat and into my stomach. My esophagus is coated with a slime that I swear I can feel moving of its own volition. I feel like the color grey.

The bacon flavor floats in and out, like haunted souls trapped in a dark bog, submersing, then briefly breaking the surface to open their mouths in a soundless scream for help. The cheese soon swallows them up again.

As it cools, the cheese congeals into what I could only describe as a cheese gel. It’s the fakest fake cheese flavor I’ve ever tasted, and I voluntarily eat cheese-in-a-can. The meat adds nothing. It has long since been stripped of any flavor it might add, in some factory, as a robot tears apart, crushes, and recombines various unwanted scraps of meat until there are no remaining characteristics of the animal that was sacrificed.

I eat the whole meat patty, struggling until the very end to find the words to convey what I am experiencing. My body feels wrong, as though it is telling me that all systems are not go, sound the alarms, there has been a terrible accident in Sector 7G. There is a white streak in my hair now.

Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Potatoes

I had figured the mashed potatoes would be a tasteless respite from the meat patty and cheese sauce, but instead, they honest-to-god really do taste like paper pulp. To the point where I really do wonder if that is what I am eating. Originally watery and runny, by the time I finish choking down the meat patty, they have formed into a thick paste that comes up from the bottom of the compartment with a sick slurping sound. Have you ever eaten paper? It tastes somewhat bitter and unpleasantly woody. I take two bites and can’t take any more. I dump the rest down the sink. The mashed potatoes have finished what the meat patty started.

Despite the small portions and not even finishing the mashed popapertoes, the whole thing sits like a stone at the pit of my belly. I honestly feel like I have ingested something wrong. I feel like I should go get a colon cleanse treatment or go on a three-day grapefruit-only diet or something. The list of ingredients is formidable, totalling over 50, but I’ve eaten foods that have had more ingredients than that before. But Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal is possibly the most unnatural thing I’ve ever tasted. Every aspect of it, besides the doomed fake bacon, tastes like it’s been made from industrial processing plants. I’ve just ingested a child’s slime toy that stains walls and clothing, a sponge that had been used to clean a bathroom stall, and a recycled copy of The New York Times. Banquet Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty Meal goes beyond the realms of poverty and desperation and enters a dark, frightening place, where even monsters and demons fear to tread.  I should probably go get my stomach pumped now.

  • Score: 0 out of 5 suicide crime scenes
  • Price: $1.40, $1.00 on sale, my soul forever
  • Size: 7.1 oz. Pandora’s Box
  • Purchased at: Safeway
  • Nutritional Quirks: Not actually made of any edible material, anywhere, ever.

Spooky Nerds

Nerds LogoThis probably won’t be a full-on review, but I wanted to immortalize these Spooky Nerds on the Internet. When you see these big bags of Halloween candy with smaller, individually-wrapped packages inside, they usually put little effort into getting into the holiday spirit. They might throw a bat or a tombstone on the outer bag, but that’s about it. I guess they figure that the kids don’t give a shit if it looks spooky, and the adults are only buying the candy to hand it out to little assholes so their house doesn’t get egged, so who cares about Halloween themery?

Well, I’ll tell you who: Willy motherfucking Wonka.

Spooky Nerds

Check it out! Nerds running wild, dressed up as a witch, a ghost who is apparently vision impaired, and, flipping the bird to fundamentalist Christians everywhere, a little devil holding a pitchfork. With…fangs. Who is brown, which is odd, since there don’t appear to be any brown Nerds in this bag. Perhaps he’s meant to symbolize diversity. Wonka is totally a liberal.

That white one actually came in the orange box.  Being imperfect makes Spooky Nerds even cuter.
That white one actually came in the orange box. Being imperfect makes Spooky Nerds even cuter.

Here’s where Nerds really beats out the competition in Halloween coolness. It’s not just the bag that’s spooky – it’s the mini boxes inside, too! I would have liked to have seen black Nerds instead of white, but I understand – white fruit punch Nerds are already featured in several other Nerd varieties, so it’s easy to just toss them in a box. Orange Nerds are a little more inscrutable, as I’ve never seen them featured in the classic Nerd “two flavors, two sides” boxes. But then I remembered the gigantic boxes of Nerds they sell at movie theatre concession stands.

Rainbow Nerds

Goddamn, those boxes are huge. I’d imagine you’d be seeing rainbow going down AND coming up if you tried to eat that whole box in the course of one movie. Anyway, it looks like there could be some orange in there, but, unless you’ve got a serious case of OCD, you’re not separating all those flavors out, you’re just putting your mouth to the box, tipping up, and flooding your mouth with little tangy candies. Never before have orange Nerds appeared in such a pure form. Now’s your time to shine, guys.

Fruit punch Nerds get the little devil, sans pitchfork. I won’t go too much into the taste, since I’m sure most people have had fruit punch Nerds at least once in their lives, but I will say that they are indeed tiny, tangy, and crunchy. For being so small, Wonka does a good job of packing in the flavor. They’re loaded with that blurred, vaguely tropical taste fruit punch usually has. Actually, they taste a lot like Hawaiian Punch, which has that little zing in addition to its punchiness. Fruit punch Nerds get extra points for recalling memories of drinking Hawaiian Punch out of a can during summer break.

Orange Nerds get the little ghost guy at the bottom of the outer package that I couldn’t get into the shot. Actually, it looks kind of like a bat wearing a ghost costume. Double Halloween-y! That’s awesome.

Orange Nerds taste exactly like you would expect, which is like, well, artificially flavored orange candy. They never really taste like an actual orange, but they always have that citrus zip that lends itself well to Nerds and their claims of being tangy. If you like, say, the little oranges in Runts candy, you’ll like orange Nerds.

Maybe the kids these days won’t appreciate the effort Willy Wonka has made in turning Nerds into Halloween treats, but I would love getting a box or two of these way more than getting a fun-sized Milky Way that looks like the same candy bar I could get at the store any of the other 364 days out of the year. I think they make trick-or-treating just a bit more festive. BatGhost rules.

  • Score: 4 out of 5 newt eyes
  • Price: Free – my mom sent them as a Halloween present
  • Size: 1.16 lb. bag (It doesn’t say how many boxes are in the bag, and I’m not counting.)
  • Purchased at: I don’t know, so let’s just say, HAGRA’S HOUSE OF HORRORS
  • Nutritional Quirks: No brown Nerds inside.

Doritos They’re Back: Black Pepper Jack and Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ

Doritos They're BackWhen I first saw the display of these two limited edition Doritos flavors at my local store, I was quite confused. Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ and Black Pepper Jack, both with a mysterious message on the front. What did the two have to do with each other? Why were they back to begin with? Mystified, I picked up the Black Pepper Jack and went about my business.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the bag and its mysterious message.

Doritos They're Back Close-Up

Okay, Doritos. I will do your bidding and see back panel for details.

Commit Yourself

If this is their idea of “details”, I’m glad Doritos is in the chip-making business and not writing furniture assembly instructions for Ikea. Mostly blank, with a couple of words urging me to commit myself, and a shadowy dude opening a door at the top. The big black box with the Doritos logo in it looks like I should be able to scratch it off to reveal something, but it’s the same material as the rest of the bag. I said whatever to these chips and tossed them in the cupboard.

It wasn’t until I was at the checkout at the same store the next day that I looked at the chip display from further away. Hmmm…orange bag, black bag, some kind of cardboard creepy something-or-other on the top of the display…

Oh fucking duh. It’s Halloween time!

Disturbed by my own complete lack of cognitive ability, I picked up a smaller bag of the Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ at a convenience store a few days later and tried to piece together this mystery. “They’re back…” is an obviously spooky saying, used prodigiously in horror movies, usually said by a small child to make it as creepy as possible (because small children are inherently creepy). After extensive Internet research of about 30 seconds, I discovered that Black Pepper Jack existed on store shelves sometime between 2004 and 2008, and Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ sometime around 2007. The latter was part of one of those “the public chooses what flavor wins” competitions. I don’t know who won. I did not have a website that caused me to care so much about flavor competitions in 2007. I am sorry.

So what’s with this asylum626.com bullshit? Again using my incredible powers of deduction, I put the name of the website and the phrase “commit yourself” together and figured that Snack Strong Productions had put together some sort of creepy interactive Halloweeny thing involving a mental asylum that had gone craaaazy, so to speak. And I was right!

Asylum 626

I won’t go too much into it, but Asylum 626 is apparently a sequel to Hotel 626, and if you’re reading this and click that link at any time that isn’t between 6pm, and 6am, Doritos hates you and won’t let you play the game. Actually, it sounds like a pretty cool concept, and you can read a rather informative review of the game here, which is where I found out what that enigmatic black box on the back of the bag is for – apparently, it’s an “augmented reality marker”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that you need to have a bag of either Black Pepper Jack or Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ to play the game. Very clever, Doritos, but you haven’t tricked me. I bought BOTH bags.

After putting it all together, having two Halloween-colored bags of flavors that have come “back from the dead” to tie in with your scare-inducing interactive online game during the Halloween season makes a lot more sense now. Dammit. I hate it when Doritos makes sense.

But what of the flavor of these chips? Are they actually tasty, or just a shitty front for a Halloween gimmick? Let’s find out.

Black Pepper Jack

Black Pepper Jack – These chips smell pretty similar to Spicy Nacho Cheese Doritos. I couldn’t really detect any black pepper smell – it was more of a spicy pepper smell. Unlike Spicy Nacho Cheese, however, these chips lack the neon orange flavor powder, instead being lighter orange with little black flecks that I’m assuming are the black pepper and little red flecks that I suppose are the peppers in pepper jack cheese.

Black Pepper Jack Close-Up

The cheese flavor is milder in these chips than regular Nacho Cheese Doritos. It has less of the twang of most of the cheese-flavored Doritos.  I almost want to describe the cheese flavor as “creamy”, but calling artificially flavored chip powder creamy would be madness. Instead, I’ll call it “crammy”. Crammy cheese flavor. Yes.

There is no real black pepper taste as you’re eating the chip, but after you’ve swallowed, it hits you right in the back of the throat, along with that classic generic Doritos “spicy” flavor. If you’ve ever been the new and inexperienced owner of a pepper grinder, you’ve probably over-peppered something at some point, tasted it, and almost choked on the pepper. That’s what the aftertaste of this chip is like, but less intense and unpleasant. It’s nice that the cheese flavor has a chance to shine through, because I feel that if the pepper flavor was any stronger, it would be too powerful and overwhelm the cheese flavor. Besides, if you’ve ever eaten one of those Bertie Bott’s pepper-flavored jelly beans, you know that black pepper belongs as a seasoning, not a main flavor. And yes, I have eaten one of those jelly beans. I couldn’t tell if I was choking on the taste, or my own shame.

Smokin' Cheddar BBQ

Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ – I stuck my nose in this bag of chips and was overwhelmed by the smell of fake BBQ seasoning, just like the smell you find on Lay’s Barbecue chips, except stronger. There’s a subtle undercurrent of cheesy smell, and even that smells smoky, like the BBQ has infected the cheese, but in a good way.

Smokin' Cheddar BBQ Close-Up

The coating on these chips is different from the Black Pepper Jack variety – the latter had a fine dusting of powder with speckles, while the former has a thick, sticky coating of what I guess you would call flavor paste. It’s like when you’ve eaten a bunch of chips and all the flavor comes off on your fingers and when you’re done, the oil from your hands has combined with the powder, causing a thick gunk that takes you several licks and sucks to get off. That’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.

The flavor is strikingly similar to the smell – overwhelmingly barbecue with a hint of smoky cheddar. Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ Doritos really deliver on the name this time. Two complaints – first, the hint of cheddar is nice, but I’d like to see it shine through a little more. Second, the BBQ taste is just…so…barbecuey. My palate is being assaulted by liquid smoke, which is not actually on the ingredients list, but I’m convinced they just dumped a whole bottle into the bag.

This is the first tortilla chip I’ve ever encountered that was BBQ-flavored, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Potato chips like Lay’s lend themselves well to the flavor, but there’s something disagreeable about it on a tortilla chip. Maybe Doritos should stick to the more Mexican-inspired flavors. Okay, so three complaints, I guess. (I’m just kidding, Doritos; never stop being insane.)

After I’d solved the mystery of these resurrected (and zombified, I’m assuming) chips, they charmed me before I’d even tasted them. During this time of the year you can’t throw a Jack O’ Lantern without hitting a Halloween-themed candy, but the other junk foods fail miserably at creating spoooky gimmicks for this holiday. For that reason, I have to admire Doritos for having the only porch light on in the curmudgeonly cul-de-sac of savory snacks. Black Pepper Jack Doritos are like a fun-sized Snickers bar, Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ is a box of raisins, but hey, at least you’re trying. I won’t egg your house, but you may be cleaning up toilet paper tomorrow. I promise to only hit the bushes and leave the tree alone.

Black Pepper Jack Doritos

  • Score: 2.5 out of 5 bottles of Witch’s brew
  • Price: $3.99
  • Size: 11 1/2 oz. bag
  • Purchased at: Fry’s Foods
  • Nutritional Quirks: Makes me think of Bertie Bott’s jelly beans

Smokin Cheddar BBQ Doritos

  • Score: 1.5 out of 5 sad, smashed Jack O’Lanterns
  • Price: 99 cents
  • Size: 2 1/8 oz. bag
  • Purchased at: Circle K
  • Nutritional Quirks: Liquid smoke not listed in the ingredients, but they’re LYING

Kroger Jelly Belly Pudding Snacks

Kroger Jelly Belly Pudding AllSometimes a food product comes along that’s just so wrong, so repulsive, that I have to eat it. It’s like rubbernecking at a car accident, except instead of just slowing down as you drive by, you yank on your steering wheel and crash into the already existing pile of mangled cars.

That is what purchasing Kroger Jelly Belly Pudding Snacks is like. You know that it is a terrible idea that you will live to regret, but you put them in your basket anyway, filled with guilt and shame as you do so. This train wreck all started when a friend of mine (I’m strongly reconsidering our status as “friends”) emailed me to tell me that he had seen some cotton candy pudding at his local store, and that I should review it. I looked it up to see if it might be available at one of my local stores, since we live in different states, and while I found little information about it, I did find that they are sold under the Kroger brand, which is Fry’s Foods generic brand.

I immediately set out to find it. Amazingly, the Cotton Candy flavor was sold out the first time I looked. Cotton candy pudding, sold out. The mind reels. The second time I looked, however, Cotton Candy was in stock, along with the other three available flavors – Very Cherry, Juicy Pear, and Watermelon. The puddings are meant to taste like the Jelly Belly jelly beans that come in these flavors, which, obviously, are meant to taste like actual foods. It is metapudding. It should not exist. However, I’m here to eat it so you don’t have to, so here I present to you reviews of four of the most eldritch puddings ever to have existed. I will go from what I believe to be least to most repulsive. We’ll see if I’m right.

Kroger Jelly Belly Cotton Candy Pudding Snacks

Cotton Candy

The smell was sickly sweet, with a strong overtone of artificial strawberry flavoring that I wasn’t expecting. Real cotton candy has a light, sugary smell, but this was pretty overpowering. It looked somewhat harmless to me – a nice, soft pink, sort of like the yummy bubble gum-flavored medicine I took as a kid. Or Pepto Bismol.

Cotton Candy Close-Up

The taste? Urgh. Not as sweet as I thought it would be, but instead, you get hit with the strawberry flavor, but with a foreboding chemical undertone that makes me wonder if I’m going to die. This tastes nothing like a Cotton Candy Jelly Belly, let alone actual cotton candy. The jelly beans do a pretty fair job of replicating the taste of cotton candy, but really, that’s not hard to do. Sugar. Boom. You’re done. If you gave this to a child at an amusement park or fair, they would cry, then later throw up.

I only took two bites, but I already feel a little unsettled. I thought this would be the least offensive of the puddings. I angrily throw the cup in the trash and curse every state fair I’ve ever been to.

Kroger Jelly Belly Very Cherry Pudding Snacks

Very Cherry

At the store, I commented to my fiancé that this seemed to be the least offensive of the bunch, and he looked at me like I’d just suggested that there was a least offensive flavor of Kroger Jelly Belly Pudding Snacks. He asked me what would ever possess me to think such a thing, and then I realized that I was trying to associate pudding with Jell-o. Pudding and Jell-o: not the same thing, not the same acceptable flavors. I think my brain was desperately trying to make justifications. It fell out of favor as the potentially least offensive, at that point.

Very Cherry Close-Up

Okay, let’s peel back the cover, and…it smells like cough syrup. Encouraging. I don’t know what’s worse, the smell or the fact that it looks like compote gone bad. I never thought my life would come to this.

When you first taste it, you think everything’s going to be okay. The smell was a false alarm. Well, you are fucking wrong, buddy. It tastes like you just swallowed half a bottle of cherry Nyquil and chased it with a commercial-sized bag of Sweet’N Low. I would say sugar, but it doesn’t taste like sugar, it tastes like something that people who can’t eat sugar shudder at and then dump into their iced tea, because they have made poor life decisions and now they have type II diabetes and they’re probably going to lose all their toes even if they stop giving all their money to Hostess. It does taste closer to a Very Cherry Jelly Belly than an actual cherry, but that is because every cherry-flavored candy always tastes a little bit like cough syrup. There. We all think it. I just said it.

I can’t stop staring at it, even after I’ve stopped eating it. It glistens unnaturally. It looks like some Vietnamese dish Anthony Bourdain ate on No Reservations, where he sucks the marrow out of the bone of some unknown animal. It is not of this world.

The sight and taste of this pudding have induced queasiness. I ate almost half the cup, because I was trying to figure out just the right way to describe the vague, unnameable horror. I furiously throw the cup in the trash and write a furious letter to Cherry from Punky Brewster for being associated with this product in even the smallest of ways.

Kroger Jelly Belly Juicy Pear Pudding Snacks

Juicy Pear

Juicy Pear and Watermelon duked it out for potentially worst Kroger Jelly Belly Pudding Snack, but Watermelon won, because I seem to remember Juicy Pear Jelly Bellys being a little tastier than Watermelon. Mind you, I haven’t had a Jelly Belly in years, but I’m confident that I can still sort of remember the flavors. I’m also confident that none of these puddings will taste like those jelly beans to begin with, so the point is moot.

Juicy Pear Close-Up

I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the pudding, but let me assure you, it looks like a cross between lemon custard and the ectoplasm that Slimer leaves behind. Lemon custard is tasty, and Slimer is fun, but neither of these are reassuring when we’re talking about pear pudding. Actually, nothing is reassuring when talking about pear pudding. Like a lamb with two heads, pear pudding should not exist.

I don’t even want to know what these puddings smell like anymore. I don’t need a sneak preview in pain. So I will just eat some.

HUUUUURGH. What the fuck. Who the fuck would ever, ever think that this was a good idea? It tastes like a mix of perfume made out of sweet farts and artificial banana flavoring. I am going to tie down every single member of the Kroger and Jelly Belly marketing team, feed them each an entire 4-pack of Kroger Jelly Belly Juicy Pear Pudding Snack, and demand to know where the pear is in this disgusting, slimy concoction. It is made from the tears of neglected kittens with infected eyes and the blood of baby koalas who are force-fed bananas from birth.

My stomach has tried to crawl out of my throat with each bite I have taken. For some reason, I find myself asking for forgiveness for pushing down that girl who had a lisp in the fourth grade. Enraged, I throw the cup in the trash and use a proton pack to zap Slimer out of existence.

Kroger Jelly Belly Watermelon Pudding Snacks

Watermelon

I just noticed as I pulled the 4-pack of Kroger Jelly Belly Watermelon Pudding Snacks out of the fridge that two of them are dented. Maybe I will get a horrible case of Botulism from them and die. One can only dream.

Well, this is the last one. I feel as though I am standing before the ninth circle of Hell, after having already passed through the third, fifth, and seventh circles. There is no saving my soul now.

I have no choice but to smell the watermelon pudding, as the odor hits my nose as soon as I peel back the lid. It is…surprisingly reassuring. Just your standard fake watermelon flavor, nothing ominous hidden underneath. But then I really examine it…

Watermelon Close-Up

Look at the way the pudding slides down the spoon, in one big clump. When I picked up the spoon after taking the picture, I accidentally tipped it to the side, but when I picked it up, there was no pudding residue left on the towel. Holy shit, Jelly Belly Watermelon pudding is The Blob! I am going to die.

Oh my god, what is happening here. After I took the first bite, I actually squeezed my eyes closed, like someone was physically flagellating me. This is…this is not watermelon. This is not even fake watermelon. It tastes like…oh god, I can’t even tell what it tastes like, which means I have to take another bite.

It tastes like melted plastic mixed with Novacaine, without the blessed numbness that my mouth is currently begging for. It tastes like decomposing animal flesh blended into a smoothie of rotten eggs and rubber tubing. It tastes like year-old Nickelodeon Slime engulfed a gag gift rubber sewer rat, slowly dissolving it into a toxic, semi-solid soup. Not only that, it looks like something they would use to cast dentures.

It is very, very terrible.

I have started hallucinating. My world is a hellish dreamscape of impossible colors and disturbing scents. Giant, malformed blob-monsters form and dissolve on the peripherals of my vision. Every surface glistens with an unnatural, slimy shine. With a cry of primal rage, I throw the cup in the trash, only to find that another one has taken its place. Gallagher suddenly appears before me, and I smash him with a large mallet, over and over, until he is nothing more than the mush that has been the fate of so many watermelons at his hands. The tiny pieces of his ruined body turn into jelly beans.

  • Score: 1 out of 5 eldritch horrors for all, what were there, 400 of them?
  • Price: $1.59, $0.99 on sale, I should have been paid to eat them, not the other way around
  • Size: 4 3.5 oz. cups
  • Purchased at: Fry’s Foods
  • Nutritional Quirks: Everything

Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream

Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada Sour Cream FrontSay what you will about Doritos’ crazy flavor ideas, and I do, frequently, but at least they aren’t content to rest on their laurels. For better or worse, Frito-Lay releases a new Doritos flavor every three days, which makes it difficult to keep up. That’s why, when I saw these Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream tortilla chips, I wasn’t sure if I’d missed the boat or found a new Collisions flavor. The Hot Wings/Blue Cheese and Zesty Taco/Chipotle Ranch versions of Collisions had been a staple in my local grocer’s snack food aisle for years now, and I thought that was the end of the story, but the Doritos team wasn’t done colliding deliciously compatible flavor powders yet! According to Wikipedia, there’s also Pizza Cravers/Ranch, which I vaguely recall seeing somewhere, and Habanero/Guacamole, which I have never seen but hope to, since it sounds wonderful, and, of course, Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream, which I hold in my hands today. Oddly, the official Doritos website doesn’t seem to recognize Pizza Cravers/Ranch or Habanero/Guacamole Collisions, which makes me wonder if both Wikipedia and my dubious memory are lying to me.

Snack Strong Productions does recognize Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream Collisions, however, and according to them, this flavor combo was launched in 2009, which means that I haven’t missed the boat and that the Collisions series is an ongoing Doritos project. As you can see, the front of the bag says “2 flavors – 1 bag”, which, if you’re anything like me, immediately brings up disturbing thoughts about girls and cups.

Let’s just leave that one alone and move on. As you can deduce from the front of the bag, the two powdered flavors are not combined, but are dusted separately on individual chips and then thrown into one bag together. Of course, as they rub up against each other, the powders will mix. I’m not sure if this is actually the point of Collisions or not. If it is, why bother dusting the individual chips separately? If not, then are you supposed to eat one chip at a time and enjoy the progression of flavors, or pick out one chip of each flavor and cram them both into your mouth at once, like some sort of bleary-eyed stoner sitting on his couch at 2am watching the Magic Bullet infomercial and stuffing everything within arm’s reach into his maw?

Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada Sour Cream Back

The back of the bag declares that I control the ultimate Doritos (DORITOS) flavor combination. It’s comforting to know that I’m in control of my junk food experience. I hate it when Big Chip tells me how to snack. At the bottom, the Doritos team  begs me to tell them what Collisions (COLLISIONS) combo I will unleash. Exactly what kind of options do you think I have here, Doritos? I have purchased your bag of Collisions Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream Doritos. My options are pretty limited, here. Are you expecting me to buy all of your Collisions flavors and get freaky? Maybe a little Pizza Cravers/Zesty Taco action? How about some Blue Cheese/Guacamole?

Perhaps giving me so much control wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The bag shows the chips as having distinctive physical characteristics, namely that Cheesy Enchilada is violently orange and Sour Cream looks exactly like Cool Ranch. If my “getting intimate in the bag together” theory is correct, I won’t actually be able to tell them apart. Let’s find out.

Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream Chips

Well what do you know, there really is a difference between the appearance of the two flavors. Cheesy Enchilada is an unnaturally bright orange with a heavy coating of flavor powder, while Sour Cream is more subtle, letting its tortilla nature shine through a milder coating of white powder dotted with little green speckles. I’ve never had sour cream with green speckles in it before, but, depending on the expiration date on the container, I might not be adverse to it.

The smell coming off the chips is nearly identical to the smell of Nacho Cheese Doritos, which doesn’t bode well for Cheesy’s success in capturing all the different flavors of an enchilada. I decided to try them separately at first, and then employ the stoner method. I tackled Sour Cream first, since its appearance and assumed lack of contribution to the aroma told me it would probably be more muted.

I guess appearances don’t lie, because Sour Cream tastes almost exactly like Cool Ranch. Maybe a bit more mellow, but that initial bit of zip, or tang, or whatever you’d like to call it, from Cool Ranch is exactly what is present here. I really don’t taste any of the essence of what real sour cream tastes like. Which doesn’t mean they’re bad, mind you; I like Cool Ranch Doritos just fine. I just don’t usually put ranch on my enchiladas, is all.

Now, let’s try Cheesy Enchilada.  Hey! They’re not exactly like Nacho Cheese Doritos! Color me pleasantly surprised. There’s a definite cheesy flavor present that is reminiscent of the Nachos, but it’s a little less overpowering. Which is great, because that allows the second flavor to come through – a hint of smoky spiciness that stays with you after the chip is gone. The two flavors really play nicely with each other, creating a tasty snack with a bit of complexity.

And now, of course, for the true test: the Collision. To ensure accuracy, I took two similarly-sized chips and shoved them into my mouth together, creating a rain of crumbs on my kitchen counter and the uncomfortable feeling that someone could see me doing this. It is quite the flavor explosion, although I can’t say that the two flavors marry very well. There’s a lot of cheese and ranch, and even a little bit of the smokiness comes through, but at no point did I close my eyes and get transported to a fine Mexican restaurant, where I was eating a delicious cheese-filled tortilla smothered in enchilada sauce with a dollop of sour cream on top. Instead I was a woman, disgraced, standing alone in her kitchen, mangling two chips together so they would both fit into her mouth at once.

As a tag team, Doritos Collisions Cheesy Enchilada/Sour Cream chips don’t really work, which is sad because that is the whole premise of this gimmick. Apart, however, they are both tasty tortilla chips. It’s like being friends with a married couple who should have gotten divorced years ago; together, they are constantly at odds, and you are mildly embarrassed to be seen with them as they quarrel in public.   However, separately they are both fun, decent people. Plus, there’s a lot less crumbs involved.

  • Score: 3 out of 5 hamburgers Collided; 4 out of 5 hamburgers separately
  • Price: $3.29, $2.88 on sale
  • Size: 11 3/4 oz. bag
  • Purchased at: Fry’s Foods
  • Nutritional Quirks: Not much surprising here, although sour cream is actually listed as an ingredient.  Mud on my face, I guess.  COOL RANCH-FLAVORED MUD.

Jalapeño Cheddar Tortilla Combos

Combos Jalepeno Cheddar TortillaCombos have a special place in my heart. As a child, I was absolutely in love with their Pizzeria Pretzel flavor. Maybe it was the alliteration that captivated me. Who knows? There was just something about the salty pretzel combined with the tastes-nothing-like-pizza filling.

Sometime in my teens, Pizzeria Pretzel Combos disappeared, at least where I was living at the time, and I was heartbroken. I sat alone in my room, listening to The Cure, wondering what I had done wrong. Had I not bought enough to ensure their continued existence? Surely that could not be the case. As time went on, I eventually got over it, and Pizzeria Pretzels became nothing more than a distant memory, something I got misty-eyed about only after a few too many margaritas. I do the same thing when I remember my sordid love affair with Planters Cheez Balls. Prepare to be embarrassed if you ever take me to a T.G.I. Friday’s.

They eventually brought them back, but by then, I was older, more mature. I had moved on to more sophisticated fare, like shoving my face into a bag of Flamin’ Hot Funyuns.

…Okay, that is obviously a lie. Which is why, when I saw a bag of these new Jalapeño Cheddar Tortilla Combos, my mind harkened back to all the good times I had with Pizzeria Pretzel, and I knew I just had to get them. I haven’t had Combos in many years; will I fall in love all over again? Will that crunchy outer shell and creamy, ever-so-artificial filling sweep me off my feet?

Before we get to that, I have something important to tell you about. You know, it’s always nice when I pick up a fairly ordinary snack food and think, “What am I going to write about this to make it something more than just a description of what it tastes like?” And then there’s something on the packaging or their website that makes my head explode.

Such is the case with the Combos website. I don’t even know where to begin. Their home page can’t decide if it’s trying to look manly or Cold War-era Communist. In the middle of the page is “A Guide to Combivore Living”. What? Combivore? I understand trying to create a catchy new word that will associate your product with something people enjoy (Chocl-O-Bots and Delect-O-Cons come to mind), but seriously Combos, you’re trying way too hard. Combivore is a terrible, terrible word. Furthermore, there’s only one kind of Combos that’s even vaguely carnivore-related, and that’s pepperoni. Pepperoni is a pussy. Steak beats pepperoni up at recess every day and takes its lunch money.

I just realized that “Combivore” sounds a lot like “combover”. If you’re trying to project machismo, Combos, invoking thoughts of a man’s desperate attempts to conceal his dwindling virility by pasting the last few strands of his hair across his bald head is not the way to go about it.

There are so many more horrors, I can’t even describe them all, or this post would be 700 paragraphs long, so we’ll skip past the very obviously male-skewed marketing (in addition to “Combivore”, there’s a NASCAR promotion, a “Man Zone”, and a contest to win the “Ultimate Mancation”) and get right to the part that really made my head explode: the Combivore Tools section. It claims to have “blueprints for the Combivore lifestyle”. What it really contains is the blueprints for madness. I can’t even begin to describe these pictures, so I’ll just show you:

Combos Combrero

I appreciate that they illustrate the man wearing the Combrero as having giant jowls and probably weighing upwards of 500 pounds. Truth in advertising is so rare these days. The optional beverage holder is a nice touch. Wouldn’t have to want to actually reach out to grab your beer to wash down all those Combos you are eating OUT OF A FUCKING HAT.

Combos Tuxeato

Nobody who is looking at this website has, or ever will, wear an actual tuxedo.

Combos Handset Feeder

What is happening here? Is he yelling at the Combo? Surely he is not yelling at the Combo, unless he’s saying, “GET IN MY FUCKING MOUTH!” I guess he’s yelling at whoever is on the phone with him because their call interrupted his Combo eating. Except that’s not a real phone, it’s the Combos equivalent of those little plastic cell phones with the candy inside. This man is obviously insane.

Like I said: madness. I can’t even look at this website anymore. You can view a few more blueprints for unraveling the very fabric of reality at the official Combos website.

In order to give Combos a shot at reclaiming my heart, I’m going to pretend that the Combos marketing team that made that website is Combos’s crazy mother-in-law who collects Richard Nixon memorabilia and always smells like boiled cabbage. I have to visit her occasionally, but she lives in a special needs home far, far away, and I can pretend she doesn’t exist most of the time.

So, let’s see what you’ve got, Japaleño Cheddar Tortilla Combos.

Jalapeno Cheddar Tortilla Combos

Well, yeah, those are Combos, all right. What you see is pretty much what you get – a somewhat-creamy filling surrounded by a tubular shell of, in this case, crunchy tortilla. They smell strongly of artificial cheese flavoring. Anyone with half a brain and a desire not to die at age 30 of cardiac disease would find this smell mildly repulsive. It’s an innate warning sign, like the bright coloring of poisonous animals – stay away. Here there be danger. But I obviously have some sort of defective gene, since I find the smell kind of attractive. Fortunately, I’m sure evolution will step in at some point and ensure that I never procreate and infect the gene pool with my inferior survival instincts.

In spite of the strong cheesy smell, it’s actually the jalapeño that hits you upon first bite. These things are actually spicy! I was expecting the usual cheddar cheese Combos flavor with maybe a hint of bite on the back end, but the jalapeño just bursts in and takes over the joint. The flavor is somewhat akin to the juice that pickled jalapeño slices soak in. It’s hard to even tell what the cheese tastes like, but from what I can tell, it’s a lot like Cheddar Easy Cheese. If that gives you no frame of reference because you’ve never eaten cheese out of a can, then fuck you. Get off my website.

As I mentioned before, I haven’t had Combos in a long time, but if my memory serves correctly, the shell tastes exactly like a Combos cracker shell. Which is to say, it tastes like nothing. There’s absolutely nothing tortilla-esque about them. Honestly, I think they just slapped the word “tortilla” on the package and just used regular ol’ cracker shells. The front of the package really wants to tell me about how they’ve used stone ground corn, so I guess that’s the difference? Regardless, I probably couldn’t tell them apart in a blind taste test. It’s not to say they are bad – they just aren’t anything more than a solid, handleable vessel for the filling.

Did I mention these are spicy? It hits you right away and lingers well after you’ve finished eating them. Jalapeño Cheddar Tortilla Combos really aren’t fucking around.

On the scale of “how bad for me is this junk food product”, Combos just strikes me as being quite low on the spectrum. They just taste wrong. It’s just impossible to eat them without feeling like the guy wearing the Combrero, which is to say, wondering what you are doing with your life and taking your eyes off the tv for one second to contemplate the very real possibility of dying alone and nobody finding your body until the neighbors report a funny smell two weeks later. When you eat Cheetos, you feel like you’re indulging in a snack food craving. When you eat Combos, you feel like you’ve made some very poor life decisions.

So, did Jalapeño Cheddar Tortilla Combos reclaim my heart? Well, judging from the numbness that’s radiating down my left arm, I guess you could say they have, in a way.

All that aside, they are very spicy!

  • Score: 2.5 out of 5 hamburgers
  • Price: $2.29 (yeesh, seriously?)
  • Size: 6.30 oz. bag
  • Purchased at: Circle K
  • Nutritional Quirks: If you eat the whole bag at once, which is what I used to do as a child, you will be consuming 840 calories.  Dude, seriously, put the Combrero down and go get a Big Mac or something.

Cheez-It Pepper Jack Baked Snack Crackers

Cheez-It Pepper Jack Box

The box of my Cheez-It Pepper Jack crackers claims to be new, but according to my somewhat dubious research, it’s been out since the beginning of this year. No matter, they’re new to me! Besides that, I’m inclined to believe anything that snack product packaging tells me. So, let’s check out some NEW! Cheez-It Pepper Jack Baked Snack Crackers.

Cheez-Its are one of the world’s greatest snacks. Cheesy and salty, you can take them anywhere. You can eat them while driving on a long road trip and not get greasy fingers. They are the perfect size and always the same shape, and the box keeps most of them from being broken. What more can you ask for?

I have not yet tried the Pepper Jack Cheez-Its, but I am predicting that this review will be pretty short, because really, how much can you say about Cheez-Its?  Even the pepper jack ones. How bad can they be? I’ve tried the Hot & Spicy and the White Cheddar varieties, and I found them both to be satisfactory, although their flavorings come in the form of a powder on the cracker, so I’d stick with the original if you’re driving, or if you’re on a date and don’t want your potential new lover to see you sucking a thick layer of seasoning off your fingers. Of course, if you’re on a date and you’re eating Cheez-Its, something has already gone very wrong.

Well, let’s crack this puppy open and get started!

Cheez-It Pepper Jack Crackers

Upon opening the bag inside the box, I’m greeted with that familiar Cheez-It smell. Nothing smells spicy, but I attributed that to an initial characteristic which surprised me: instead of the pepper jack flavoring being delivered via a powder resting on the surface of the Cheez-It, the flavor had instead been baked into the cracker. Score one for keeping a box of these in the car, if you are the type of person who feels they need to have snack food in their car at all times.  Don’t laugh; these people exist.

Cheez-It Pepper Jack Close-Up

You can see the little pieces of pepper inside the cracker. It does seem to look a bit like a little square of pepper jack cheese, with the bits of green and red peppers spread throughout, although some of the crackers had barely any visible peppers. They seem to be paler than normal Cheez-Its. I also noticed that these Cheez-Its had less salt on them. On regular Cheez-Its, you can see little crystals of salt covering the cracker, but those were mostly absent here.

I was really disappointed by the first few Pepper Jack Cheez-Its I ate. They tasted just like regular Cheez-Its, except blander, and you could definitely notice the lack of salt. I kept eating them, because hey, bland Cheez-Its are better than no Cheez-Its, and that’s when the pepper flavor hit. The more I ate, the more it built up, until I had a nice spicy heat sensation in my mouth. These guys really do taste a lot like pepper jack cheese. I can see now why they went easy on the salt – by making them less salty and toning down the cheese flavor, the peppery heat is really allowed to shine. My one complaint is that they might have toned down the cheese flavor a little too much – I think a little more cheesiness could have stood up to the heat, and been a nice compliment.

Of course, I’m just being a dick about that point – real pepper jack cheese is made with Monterey Jack, which is traditionally mild in flavor. And, true to its namesake, Pepper Jack Cheez-Its do contain Monterey Jack, although it seems the main cheese used to flavor these crackers is white cheddar. Perhaps I should be thankful – without the cheddar, there might not have been any cheese flavor coming through. Red bell peppers, green bell peppers, natural jalapeño flavor and red pepper are also listed as ingredients. Sounds pretty on par, if you ask me.

Well, looks like I managed to pull a pretty decent-sized review out of this box, after all. Cheez-It Pepper Jack Baked Snack Crackers are a-ok in my book. Will they be replacing regular Cheez-Its as the cheesy cracker staple in my household? Probably not. Regular Cheez-Its are tasty but largely inoffensive; these crackers pack a bit of a punch, enough that anyone with a palate sensitive to capsaicin-related heat might actually find themselves reaching for a glass of milk. These people are pussies. However, I think if I’m sitting on the couch, watching a nine-hour marathon of Law & Order in my pajamas, I’d prefer the cheesy saltiness of regular Cheez-Its over the spicy, but more mild and less salty flavor of Pepper Jack Cheez-Its.

  • Score: 4 out of 5 burgers
  • Price: $4.59
  • Size: 13.7 oz.
  • Purchased at: Albertson’s #980
  • Nutritional Quirks: Real cheese and real peppers, even if they were listed in the “contains less than 2% of” section.

José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas

The simplest explanation of the second law of thermodynamics describes the fact that heat, of its own volition, always flows into cold. This tendency has been observed and expanded over the years by science, leading to a much more profound truth: nature tends toward higher levels of uniformity, or entropy. Simply put, the Universe is constantly striving for mediocrity.

This brings me to José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas.

empanadasstockpic

Packaging: Right out of the gate, José Olé starts writing checks his empanadas can’t cash, and it all begins with the ingredient list. There are a total of 87 ingredients in the list, which sprawls across one side of the box like a mural of the periodic table of elements, and I’m beginning to doubt the bold claim of “Authentic Flavor” emblazoned on the front. This feeling of grave concern was immediately compounded by the appearance of American Process Cheese Product nestled among the assorted dubious quackery and unrequested (but ultimately insightful) diarrhea treatments.

The reflex reaction of any sane man would be to immediately set fire to the entire grocer’s freezer containing José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas, as an act of simultaneous protest and purification. However, there were two mitigating factors that resulted in another evening spent comfortably at home, rather than enjoying the austere hospitality of the Maricopa County criminal justice system. First, the proprietors of Junk Food Betty are not what you’d call “together”, in the psychological sense. Second, there is an inviting visage smiling warmly from the box.

The Face of Flavor
The Face of Flavor

I can only assume that this handsome, distinguished gentleman is the eponymous Señor Olé, beaming powerful waves of avuncular sincerity directly to my father-figure cortex. Here, I thought to myself, is a man who is to be trusted and respected. Here is a man who will deliver Authentic Flavor at a reasonable price, because he is a man of strong moral integrity. From under the soaring brim of his majestic hat, he commands one to “Taste the Fiesta!” Very well, José Olé, you pillar of convenient ethnic cuisine, I will taste your fiesta.

Preparation: There are three proffered preparation procedures present on the package. I chose the mean method in terms of labor – baking – though the paths of microwaving and pan-frying are also available to the discriminating consumer (who, incidentally, will not be purchasing José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas). After twenty minutes in a preheated 375 °F oven, I was ready to open my mouth and my heart to receive La Fiesta. I was feeling optimistic because, unlike other pre-fried products that bake, I did not have to flip the empanadas halfway through cooking. This is because José Olé knows what a hassle it is to heave my decaying corpus off the couch twice in twenty minutes.

Dining Experience: I can only assume it’s due to the highly ferrous nature of the product, but José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas manage to maintain a steady 10,000 °F internal temperature for like twenty goddamned minutes. It’s as if the act of heating them ignited a self-sustaining fusion reaction deep within their chickeny cores.

Once the product had cooled, and been sifted out of the smoking rubble of my once-palatial residence, I noted with appreciation that the empanadas looked, on the outside, strikingly identical to those depicted in the packaging. With trembling hands and a grumbling stomach, I bisected the golden brown pastry and peered into the transcendent face of Authentic Flavor:

empanadacrosssection

You wound me, José Olé.

Elevated to astronomical heights of ecstatic anticipation, the first bite flooded my mouth with a blandness almost intimidating in its aggression. The experience was something like eating a tight bundle of Kraft Singles deep-fried in a wonton wrapper. The aftertaste of the product creates a wave of salty regret. I continued to eat, desperately chasing the fleeting dream of La Fiesta.

To be honest, there are moments when the empanada isn’t offensive. Here and there, you’ll experience a bite where the chicken and chilis do come through. Unfortunately, this is interspersed with intervals of American Process Cheese Product Purgatory, and long, harrowing moments of introspection. The final result is a confusing, bitter dining experience, which wasn’t made any better by the laughing mug of José Olé staring me down with a mirth I now understand to be the savage joy of the betrayer.

On the bright side, I was reasonably full after the whole ordeal was over. The empanadas are filling enough that you won’t be hungry for the hours-long bout of ennui that follows eating them. Furthermore, none of the 87 ingredients were immediately lethal. Overall, however, oral consumption of José Olé Chicken & Cheddar Empanadas is tantamount to yelling “fuck you, mouth!” and then punching yourself in the teeth with a salt lick.

  • Score: Dos sándwiches de carne de vacuno infeliz.
  • Price: $6.39, $5.59 on sale
  • Size: 1 lb.
  • Purchased at: Albertson’s #980
  • Nutritional Quirks: 87 ingredients, some of which are magnetic