KFC Fiery Grilled Wings

KFC Fiery Grilled Wings BucketI’ve been burned before, if you’ll excuse the pun, by fast food chains’ claims of spiciness and heat in new menu items they introduce. Burger King’s Angry Whopper and Taco Bell’s Volcano Menu come specifically to mind, with their commercials of people sweating and steam coming out of their ears and, well, volcanoes, and yet, the heat just isn’t there. So you can understand my wariness when I learned of KFC’s new Fiery Grilled Wings. I decided to try them anyways, though, since I already like their grilled chicken, so at the very least I’d be eating grilled chicken wings, and I can think of a lot worse things to be eating.

For those of you who only eat organic produce and don’t have a television, KFC introduced their grilled chicken in April of 2009, making a big to-do with their “UNFry Day”, launching their UNTHINK ad campaign and touting the new product as a healthier option than their traditional fried chicken products. I didn’t have this website back then, but I did try their grilled chicken, and found it to be delicious. In fact, in the handful of times I’ve been to KFC since they launched their grilled chicken, I haven’t once gone the way of the fried.

KFC went with “fiery” instead of “spicy” for their new grilled wings, which, of course, opens the door to a whole wave of ridiculousness in their commercials.

KFC Fiery Grilled Wings Firebreather

Caution: KFC Fiery Grilled Wings are to beat eaten outside, and only by a trained professional.

KFC Fiery Grilled Wings Tiger

I guess here you are the tiger, and you are jumping through hoops to get to KFC’s new Fiery Grilled Wings.

KFC Fiery Grilled Wings

The wings have similarities and differences to both traditional buffalo wings and to their un-fiery big brothers. Instead of getting your fingers covered in buffalo sauce, you will get them covered in grease. They have a crispy skin like KFC’s other grilled chicken, but the pieces I got seem to lack the somewhat disturbingly fake-looking grill marks that the bigger chicken pieces have. Most of the reason I love KFC’s grilled chicken so much is that, first of all, it seems to be juicier than their fried chicken, and second, it has a great spice blend on the skin that reminds me of their Rotisserie Gold chicken that disappeared in the mid-1990’s, much to my anger and despair. Even in high school, I was already writing angry letters in my head to fast food chains.  With these wings, they’re about as juicy as any other chicken wing you’ll find, and the grilled chicken spices seem to be masked by the “fiery” spice.

KFC Fiery Grilled Wings Spice

The spice, I have to say, does not disappoint. It tastes nothing like the heat of buffalo sauce, instead delivering a straight-up capsaicin heat that comes from the little pepper bits on the surface of the wing. After a couple of wings, my lips were actually burning, but the heat didn’t hit my mouth enough to necessitate a glass of milk or perhaps a dip of ranch dressing, a traditional accoutrement to buffalo wings that did not accompany my Fiery Grilled Wings. They were fiery, but not so aggressive as to put off the average American’s pussy-whipped taste buds.

With a crispy skin and a bit of bite, KFC’s Fiery Grilled Wings are a tasty alternative to traditional buffalo wings. I, however, will probably never purchase them again. I have a beef (again, pardon the pun) with chicken wings. I used to enjoy them, until one day, one of my pretentious foodie friends got on his soapbox about them, declaring them bullshit on the grounds that they are basically the worst part of the chicken, and positing a conspiracy amongst chicken producers to spin chicken parts with very little meat into a very profitable party snack.

I usually ignore his ranting, but it made me think, and after a while, I decided that I agreed with him. Chicken wings are difficult to eat, yielding very little meat, which you really have to work for as you navigate around a heavy concentration of bones, tendons, and other icky bits. So, while I like the kick of Fiery Grilled Wings, I’d rather stick with KFC’s grilled chicken drumsticks, thighs, breasts, and the like. KFC’s Fiery Grilled Wings come in a sad biscuit box of five pieces (at least, that’s what my order came in), or considerably cooler-looking buckets of 20 or 30 pieces. If you’re the type who likes to sit down with some friends and some wings to watch a football game, there’s nothing wrong with giving these a try. Don’t let my opinion on chicken wings in general stop you. I’ll just secretly judge you as an uneducated goon who likes sub-par chicken and watching grown men in spandex pile on top of each other. I’m just saying.

  • Score: 3.5 out of 5 fire-breathing tigers
  • Price: $3.99
  • Size: 5 wings
  • Purchased at: KFC #Y303048
  • Nutritional Quirks: Contains beef powder, dehydrated carrot, and, most tastily, calcium silicate.

The Impulsive Buy has also written a review of KFC Fiery Chicken Wings.  Check out his opinion, too!

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.

Whataburger A.1. Thick & Hearty Burger

Whataburger Thick & Hearty Gone

Whataburger’s A.1. Thick & Hearty Burger has been an off-and-on limited edition menu item for at least a few years now. I’m not sure why they feel the need to compulsively add it to the lineup, take it away after a few months, and then bring it back around a year later, but I suppose Whataburger can do whatever Whataburger wants. Maybe it drums up excitement and anticipation in the burger community. I don’t know. I didn’t go to burger college.

Whatever the reason, it’s moot now, as Whataburger has decided to do away with it forever. As you can see in the banner above, as of December 21, 2009, the A.1. Thick & Hearty Burger will no longer exist to satisfy your meaty cravings. I have had several of them over the years, and wouldn’t usually do a review on something that has become fairly commonplace to me, but I feel I owe it to the T&H to give it a proper send-off and immortalize it on the Internet.

Whataburger Thick & Hearty Wrap

For those of you who don’t live in the ten select states in the southern part of the United States that have Whataburgers, Whataburger is like a higher-end fast food burger joint. Sort of like In-n-Out, but with a more expanded menu. You can walk in or drive thru, but either way, your wait is going to be longer than it would be at a place like Burger King or McDonald’s, and the food is going to be a little more expensive. Conversely, the food will be of higher quality. If you want to see what you’re missing, you can take a gander  here.

Whataburger wants to make sure that you know you should be seriously mourning the passing of the A.1. Thick & Hearty Burger. We’re talking weeping, pulling hair, rending clothes. There’s a commercial out now that shows a man standing in front of a Whataburger counter; once he catches a glimpse of the “Gone Forever” announcement on the menu above the cashier’s head, he goes through the seven stages of grief, throwing his body on the counter, shaking his head, and generally acting like that homeless guy who gets a free cup of coffee at McDonald’s so he’ll go away and stop making the other customers uncomfortable.

Whataburger wants to make sure that you do not end up becoming that homeless man due to going mentally insane from grief and despair, so they’ve set up a website where you can “let the healing begin”. You can view other people’s fond memories of the burger, support a friend, find some coping tips, or sign a virtual card bidding farewell to what is apparently supposed to be a close friend of yours. A hamburger. Listen, I’m not here to judge, if your best friend is a hamburger from a fast food joint, then that’s your business. Whatever floats your boat. Some of my best friends are hamburgers. I’m just saying.

Whataburger Thick & Hearty Whole

To be honest with you, I am sad to see it go. It is a pretty darn delicious burger. There’s two generously sized beef patties, not suffering from the anemia of other fast food burger patties; when you bit into it, you feel like you’re getting a real, juicy, meaty burger, instead of that familiar feeling of “I’m not exactly sure if this is made out of beef, but I guess I’ll eat it anyways.” The bun is a little flatter and denser than most other burgers, but it tastes fine (I mean really, how much can you say about a damn bun), and the denseness makes you feel like you’re holding a substantial sandwich. The cheese is strategically placed between the patties, so it oozes out as you take a bite. However, the real stars of the show, what sets it apart from a regular burger, are on top.

Whataburger Thick & Hearty Side

A.1. Thick & Hearty Steak Sauce is slathered on the top bun. It differs from the original A.1. Steak sauce in that it is both thicker and heartier, a shocking discovery, given the name of the product. It’s also a little sweeter and smokier than the original, more in the vein of barbecue sauce than steak sauce, with less of a vinegar taste. The bacon is a bit limp, an epidemic trait amongst fast food bacon, but it’s still a little crisper and more flavorful than you’d find on other fast food burgers that employ bacon.

While the A.1. sauce is obviously supposed to be the star of the show, what I was really surprised by was how much the onions turn this burger up a notch.

Whataburger Thick & Hearty Open

Seemingly innocuous in their bath of sauce, you would expect these little chopped onions to be spongy and flavorless. Instead, they add a welcomed bright note to the burger, giving it a great crunch and mild but definitely present onion flavor that ties together the meatiness of the beef and the smokiness of the sauce.

While not the greatest burger of all time, the Whataburger A.1. Thick & Hearty Burger is a step above your ordinary bacon cheeseburger, and if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the ten states that have a Whataburger, I’d recommend that you get out there and try one before they disappear forever on December 21st. Sure, you could make a close facsimile at home with ease, but if you’re on the road and looking for a shitty burger to satisfy your protein cravings, the Thick & Hearty burger is a tasty and unique option that will leave your belly and your taste buds satisfied.

  • Score: 4 out of 5 overly dramatic send-offs
  • Price: $5.09
  • Size: 1 1/2 lb. hamburger
  • Purchased at: Whataburger #421
  • Nutritional Quirks: Contains 120% of your daily recommended saturated fat intake; also contains “bun oil”.

Junk Food Foibles: McDonald’s Spicy McDouble

Recently, I was driving past a local McDonald’s and I spotted this sign:

Spicy McDouble
Me, on a busy street corner at 7am, trying to look inconspicuous

Bob and I buzzed with speculation all the way home.  What would be on this new Spicy McDouble?  Pepper jack cheese seemed an obvious choice.  Jalapeños, maybe?  Perhaps a special mayo-based sauce with some zing?  Nah, that’s probably too much effort for a $1 value menu burger.

I got home and slid onto the Internet, eager to see what it had to say about this new offering.  I’ve been burned by fast food’s so-called “spicy” offerings (such as Burger King’s Angry Whopper), but there are some guys out there capable of delivering some heat (such as Carl’s Jr.’s Jalapeño Burger).  I’m always willing to give it a shot.

…Unfortunately, my search was fruitless.  There was absolutely no buzz about the Spicy McDouble on the Interwaves.  What gives?  I was starting to get suspicious.  I decided to write McDonald’s an email, but in the middle of writing it, I found the phone number of the location in question.  Great, I could go right to the source.

I was expecting much confusion when I called the restaurant.  A bored-sounding girl answered the phone, and I explained what I had seen on the sign and inquired as to what this new menu item entailed.  She told me to hold on, and I assumed she had no idea what I was talking about and was going to pass me off to someone else.  Instead, she was taking an order.  When she got back, she said, “Actually, it’s because they look close together but it’s actually the Hot ‘n Spicy chicken and the McDouble.”

Aha!  While that sentence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it’s what my growing suspicion had been all along.  The Hot ‘n Spicy chicken sandwich and the McDouble are both on McDonald’s Dollar Menu.  Or are they?  I can find no mention of the Hot ‘n Spicy on the McDonald’s official website, but if you search for it on Google, you’ll find plenty of other websites that mention it by name and even offer detailed nutritional information.  Again I ask, what gives, McDonald’s?  Why are you trying so hard to hide the Hot ‘n Spicy?  And who in their right mind would just put “$1 spicy” on a sign?  That doesn’t even mean anything!  Spicy what, for heaven’s sakes?!

One solved mystery and one new mystery later, I have my answer.  I have to say, I’m a little disappointed.  I was looking forward to trying the Spicy McDouble.  My only consolation is the idea that, every day, dozens of people flood into that McDonald’s, angrily demanding the Spicy McDouble that was advertised on the sign.  Their hunger and their need for spice fills them with rage, until they are a single entity, a raving mob of lunatics shouting profanities and threatening to sue for false advertising.  Flustered employees back away and mutter impotently, unable to logically explain the separation of spicy and McDouble to the masses.  Chaos reigns throughout.

Del Taco Shredded Beef Taco Del Carbon

When I heard that Lou Dobbs was leaving CNN, it reminded me how puzzled I am about the whole immigration debate. And by “debate”, I mean lot of douchebags like Lou Dobbs yelling ridiculous things and making mountains out of assorted mole hills. Personally, I don’t see the problem. I love Mexico, and Mexican culture.

I visit Mexico every chance I get. It has everything you could possibly want in a Third World country you can visit easily and then thank Christ you don’t live there. It has great music. It has a beautiful language. It has cheap liquor. It has cheap women. It has a very laid-back attitude about public drunkenness and attendant antics. It has an easily bribable (and subsequently cheerful) police force. And above all, it has incredible food, across the entire nation. I’ve never had a bad meal in Mexico.

In my opinion, the best dish to be had in Mexico is the taco. Put what you want in it: carnitas, camaron, al pastor, or my favorite, cabeza, it’s a goddamned delight, and as rich in history as it is in flavor.

Sadly, most Americans (I’m looking at you, too, Canada) have never had a taco. There is an abomination being passed as a taco around American food vendors like a tired whore lying boneless in a fried corn shell.

Maybe that’s a little strong. I’ve been known to enjoy an American-style “taco”, and the owner of this site apparently freaking loves them if they’re dyed black in an inexplicable marketing ploy. But for nervous white guys like me, who furtively prowl the bad parts of town and stutter awkwardly accented Spanish to nonplussed strangers for our fix, it’s just not the real thing.

That was until 2003, and the release of Del Taco’s Taco Del Carbon line of products. It’s about as authentic as you can get without dodging roving bands of angry young cholos or submitting to uncomfortable border searches. I only recently heard that Del Taco also re-released their shredded beef offerings. It’s the best thing to happen to Del Taco since they discontinued carnitas.

Del Taco Shredded Beef Taco Del Carbon

The Del Taco Shredded Beef Taco Del Carbon consists of slow-simmered shredded beef, minced onions, chopped cilantro, and a “California” chili sauce, on two warm corn tortillas. I’m not sure what the Hell a “California chili sauce” is supposed to be, but the important thing is what the Taco Del Carbon does not include: namely, carbon, which means “coal” in Spanish. There is a distinct lack of coal, for which I think we can all be grateful. Maybe they’re referring to the sixth element, which I assume is present in the dish in spades.

I’m the kind of guy who measures his self-worth in his ability to find things to complain about. You know the type: pretentious know-it-alls who drone on and on about how American tacos aren’t authentic. That said, I can’t find a single thing to complain about with this taco.

The first thing you’ll notice when biting into this delicious taco is that it’s juicy as all get-out, from the first bite to the last. You have to kind of suck on it as you bite in order not to get meat juice all over yourself.

…go ahead, get it out of your system. Juicy meat and chin drippings. I’ll wait.

The flavors are all there. The onion and cilantro are bold without being overwhelming, letting the beef play its intended central role. The sauce is understated, and comes through as a very subtle enhancement, with the barest hint of heat that’s unnoticeable until the finish. I guess the corn flavor in the tortilla could be a little stronger, but what’s present rounds out the bite nicely. In short, the Del Taco Shredded Beef Taco Del Carbon is probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten from a fast food establishment, short of the carnitas Tacos Del Carbon that were discontinued. If you’ve got a Del Taco within driving distance, you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice in passing up this opportunity before Del Taco starts up their own take on the McRib cycle.

And if you’re ever in Mexico, Lou Dobbs, I’m the white guy lying on the floor of a filthy Mexican cantina, with cheap women pouring cheap tequila down my throat. Come say hi, we’ll talk.

  • Score: 5 out of 5 easily bribed federales
  • Price: $1.49
  • Size: About 3.5 ounces
  • Purchased at: Del Taco #884
  • Nutritional Quirks: The lack of coal is a relief.

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.

Junk Food Freebie: Taco Bell Black Jack Taco

Black Jack DescriptionObviously, Taco Bell read my review of their Black Jack taco, and realized that it was a serious oversight on their part not to associate the black-shelled taco that came out earlier this month with the glorious holiday called Halloween.  In a feeble attempt to hide their shame, they have belatedly tried to connect the two by offering a free Black Jack taco on October 31st, 2009, from 6pm until midnight.  They even added some spoooooky music to their website and tried to make the ad reflect the spirit of the holiday.

Free Black Jack

Taco Bell is obviously trying to trick AND treat us, and I am willing to submit to their obvious ploy in order to get my free taco.  So on Halloween, get out there, get some candy, and then pull into Taco Bell’s drive-thru so all the employees can laugh at your ridiculous costume while they fill your order.  Maybe this should be considered a Junk Food FreeBOO!

No.  No, it shouldn’t.

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

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