Review: Smart Made Grilled Sesame Beef & Broccoli

The Shameless Consumer is a well known philanthropist and connoisseur when it comes to smart things made smartly by smart people, so when the new brand Smart Made by Smart Ones smartly struck the Smart Mart where the Smartful Smartsumer partakes in what less smart people might refer to as “shopping for groceries,” he couldn’t smart up the opportunismart for a smart meal with smart smartgredients. Can someone smart me a smartbulence? I think I’m smarting a stroke.

Smart Made by Smart Ones is a new brand offshoot looking to capitalize on the whole “ingredients you can pronounce” craze that’s sweeping the nation’s 7th grade reading level, words that don’t have too many syllables and sound just foreign enough to be exotic without sounding too foreign. You don’t want to go frightening everyone in WalMart. The first product I’ll be looking at is grilled sesame beef and broccoli, a meal made only with products I can pronounce like “vegetable blend,” “cooked brown rice,” and “seasoned cooked grilled sirloin beef steak strips and corn starch product.” Gotta love that corn starch product. I can pronounce all of those, I can even partially spell them.

Smart Made describes this product as “grilled sirloin beef with broccoli, roasted red peppers and onions over brown rice lightly tossed in soy sesame sauce.”

Despite all of its boasting about simplicity, Make Good’s cooking instructions include five steps. Step one is to vent, which following a thirty minute long tirade on the statistical health benefits of gradually adding Kraft cheese powder to the public drinking water, the only thing I’d accomplished was that the meal had started to thaw and leave beef condensation on my unopened copy of Copout on VHS. In the name of time, I decided to finish up step one and throw the dish into the microwave, punch in the odd symbols, and cook the bastard like yesterday’s yogurt.

Smart Made Sesame Beef & Broccolli by Smart Ones is a smart deal, and cooks up rather nice to boot. What you get is a healthy dose of steak, veggies, and rice, and just the right amount of sauce. Not so little that you’re desperately licking the sides of the bowl, but not too much that you can’t take a mid-meal nap without worrying about drowning.

The broccoli and snap peas were all kinds of crunchy, like running over a hard shell taco on a gravel driveway crunchy, and there was a surprising amount of beef considering how much the frozen food industry likes to skimp out on the meat. I did not notice a quantifiable number of sesame seeds on my beef, but I’m holding out hope that they’ll show up thanks to a somewhat misleading phone call to the police and the resulting amber alert sent out at 3am for a ‘Sasamay Se’yad.” I know someone is going to call me out for abusing emergency services, but unless you’re one of the eight, max nine phone calls that the 911 operator told me I’d tied up before giving up and doing what I said, you’re just complaining for no reason.

Frozen dinner technology has made great strides over the years, with the end result being that vegetables come out of the microwave with an impressive level of crunch and flavor. We’re quickly hitting a point where it’s getting hard to tell the difference between home cooked and flash frozen, although in my case the latter leaves me with my eyebrows intact and the apartment smelling less someone burned their eyebrows off. Just think of how far we’ve come since Soviet scientists completed groundbreaking tests back in 1964, successfully flash freezing a German Shepard named Beef Stroganoff only to later unfreeze him with scientists remarking that the tests were 100% safe and could be replicated with a low sodium soy sauce.

The sauce itself falls into the usual category of ‘could use some pepper.’ There’s not a whole lot of variety in soy sauce mixed with pineapple juice, but the meal makes good of it nonetheless. The fact that the vegetables have their own flavor definitely brings this meal out as something worth eating.

The only shortfall is exactly where you’d expect in a meal counting calories, it probably won’t fill you up. Still, the Smart Made by Smart One uses good ingredients, it tastes good, and it’s probably good for your in some understanding of the concept of healthy. It definitely will stave off starvation, and I’m pretty sure the test results will lean toward that being a good thing.

Verdict: 4.5/5 – Better ingredients, tasty corn starch product.

Review: Watermelon Kickstart

Barely a week ago, the Shameless Consumer would have assumed that the worst thing to come out of Mountain Dew this year would be that awful puppymonkeybaby Super Bowl commercial. Yes, I watched the Super Bowl. Not because I like the game but because Peyton Manning was playing and he always seems to know what’s going on at Papa John’s.

At least, that was until I got my hands on the latest Mountain Dew Kickstart beverages. Kickstart, like the forced-meme commercial says, is a mashup of three things: energy drink, juice, and soda. I’ve tried them in the past, and actually enjoyed them, so I was hoping that the brand would improve even more going forward. It has not.

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Now the Shameless Consumer loves watermelon drinks, the Arizona watermelon juice cocktail has been a staple of his summertime fridge stock since the Bush administration. The first one, when he was vice president. In fact, I drank so much Arizona watermelon juice that the CEO personally wrote a letter to thank me for my patronage and to request that I seek out a nutritionist. But guess who’s still alive today? Both of us.

The odd thing about Watermelon Kickstart is that while it smells like watermelon, by which I mean the fake watermelon flavor found in Jolly Rancher candy, it doesn’t taste like watermelon. Certain flavors are impossible to recreate artificially, and watermelon is one of them. Rather companies will just use watermelon juice or some kind of chemical that doesn’t taste like watermelon at all but it’s become the staple of the artificial version of the fruit.

It’s like how the film version of Captain Kirk really wasn’t anything like the guy I watched on TV in my forties. It looks kinda like the real thing, but sure doesn’t act or taste like it, and everyone just accepts it as a fitting substitution because Hollywood tells us to.

So immediately upon your first sip the drink hits you with the one-two punch of a jilted lover, cheap fruits and artificial sweetener. Upon looking at the ingredient list, the number two most prominent ingredient is white grape juice concentrate, which also happens to be one of the cheapest juices available. It also contains Acesulfame Potassium, a sweetener known to cause mood problems. I guess that explains why I just ran over my nephew’s bike.

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While Mountain Dew Kickstart smells like watermelon Jolly Ranchers, it doesn’t taste like them. The flavor is more along the lines of white grape juice with a bit of coconut water, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Overall it just tastes disappointing, nothing like watermelon, and not in the least bit refreshing.

The sugar content isn’t so bad, 15g for 12 fluid ounces, nor is the 130mg of sodium. If you want to look at the drink from a health point of view, it does contain 100% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 60% Niacin and Vitamin B6, 45% pantothenic acid, and 10% phosphorus. It also contains 200% your daily requirement of wasted money.

At 68mg of caffeine, you’re better off going for a nice cup of coffee. You’ll feel more awake and the taste is a whole lot better. Mountain Dew Kickstart isn’t repulsive, but it fails the most important test of its kind of drink: Tasting like watermelon.

Verdict – 2/5: Has plenty of Vitamin C, but doesn’t taste like watermelon. 

Badvertising: Pizza Hut’s Unlicensed Music

Pizza Hut is rolling out its latest terrible commercial, this time promoting not how inauthentic their food is but instead focusing on something slightly more edible: Clothing. Now, licensed clothing from fast food places is fine if you’re still in the target demographic for kid’s meals, but no adult should be walking around wearing a Big Mac shirt. We don’t need you to wear clothing to express your unhealthy addiction to fast food, the watermelon sized paunch does it just as fine.

But since there’s nothing you can say about fast food clothing that hasn’t already been said about Princess Diana memorabilia, that it’s tacky and should probably be regarded as offensive and exploitative, I want to focus on one part of this commercial: The talking. If you listen closely, and by that I mean at all, you’ll notice a man’s voice repeats throughout the commercial.

He’s saying premiumbeat.com, it’s a watermark that they put on music samples so that you can’t just download or record the tracks and use them without paying, or everyone will know. And thanks to the power of the internet, everyone will know.

You can understand their thinking. Premium Beat wants $250 for a license to cover national advertising, which is probably way over budget and higher than target sales. Better to be able to pin the blame on an intern messing up the editing and not buying a license just in case someone’s lawyer decides to come knocking.

Menu Review: McDonald’s 2 for $2

If you look really close at the McDonald’s graveyard, past the premium sandwiches and ridiculous menu ideas from the 80’s and 90’s that populates every “top 25 failed fast food ideas” list on the web, you’ll find the dollar menu. A product mostly of its time, the dollar menu was a great way to bring in revenue from the lower end of the demographic, that being the low income bracket as well as poor drunk college students.

The dollar menu has mostly gone away, and with it so did the consumers. In an effort to pull back from its decreasing sales, McDonald’s and its competitors have been slowly reintroducing what I like to call the potato chip menu: You can’t buy just one.

The McPick 2 for $2 menu is an evolution of the previous 2 for $2.50. The initial run of the menu offers two items for two dollars, but you have to buy two and the selection is pretty limited. For what it’s worth, you have a pretty decent choice of items: The McDouble, the chicken sandwich, mozarella sticks, and a small order of fries.

You can’t really go wrong for $2, and unlike the $2.50 menu you can choose any two items rather than one sandwich plus fries. If you really want two orders of mozarella sticks, more power to you.

The longevity of this deal will depend on whether or not your local franchisees want to continue past the trial date. McDonald’s expects this to be a promotion that will drive traffic, with the expectation that it will lead customers to making other purchases (like drinks and desserts).

You can probably expect cities where fast food prices are generally gouged to ditch the menu pretty fast. Otherwise this is a great deal for people looking for a cheap meal.

Review: Epic Bar Pulled Pork With Pineapple

[Shameless Editor’s Comment: Stay tuned, this article is getting a followup. For now, I would recommend against listening to anything good I said about this product.]

Epic Bar’s pulled pork pineapple bar includes 100% natural pork, immediately setting it apart from its competition Terrible Bar, which mostly uses recycled paper that children drew pigs on with crayon. Incidentally, the Shameless Consumer gave Terrible Bar’s three-legged-pig drawing a 2/5, owing to its waxy taste and use of non-toxic crayons, with extra points for drawing inside the lines.

The pulled pork pineapple bar takes its cue from wasna, a dish created by Native American tribes who would combine acidic fruits with meat in order to preserve them. It is not to be confused with Wasna Ahmed, Indian actress most known for her role as Dhara in the popular soap opera Kasautii Zindagii Kay, or the Wasba, a celebration of life wherein the residents of Sheboygen Wisconsin get drunk on rye and beat each other with shovels.

I have to say that I’m really disappointed in this bar.

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First off, the name is misleading, this isn’t pulled pork. Pulled pork is slow cooked to the point where it becomes tender enough to pull apart. The meat that Epic uses in their bar isn’t the same stringy meat you’d get in a pulled pork sandwich, it’s ground pork.

Pulled pork is a product that relies on some form of fixing to bring out the taste, be it spices or barbecue sauce. Think of it like George Lucas, incapable of wiping its own posterior but with the help of intelligent handlers, capable of blowing your mind.

This bar, however, doesn’t have handlers. It is the prequel trilogy of protein bars. It’s like eating a snake, you’d think from the shiny outer coating that it’d be nice and moist, but it’s actually pretty dry and tasteless, not to mention more poisonous. I recently tried primal strips, a vegan jerky that manages to get the meat texture better than Epic does utilizing nothing but wheat protein and the power of self-importance.

It even smells faintly of barbecue sauce, perhaps from the combination of garlic and pepper, but there isn’t any that I can detect in the taste. The pineapple has far less flavor than a fruit of its caliber has any right to be, and it almost seems like the folks at Epic went out of their way to de-flavor the bar. I’m not sure how you take this ingredient list and end up with a product so bland, but Epic has found a way.

Ingredient list: Natural pork, dried pineapple, garlic, lactic acid, sea salt, celery powder, paprika, cumin, onion, black pepper, cilantro, oregano.

To salvage whatever I could out of this snack, I decided to grab a bottle of barbecue sauce and use it for dipping. It helped make the bar palatable, but for something that is intended to be eaten on the go, heavy doctoring should not be a requirement.

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The explosion of protein bars has essentially followed the logic of the energy drink industry, when companies realized that they could expand beyond the protein number bros and into a wider audience if they focused on a lacking factor called taste. It’s disappointing to see that some companies still haven’t gotten that memo.

Perhaps it’s a telling sign that my research into other reviews for Epic bars came up with nothing but PR-speak, endless blogs discussing how the bars aren’t tasteless like their competition but refusing to go into any detail. Almost like they hadn’t actually tried it, go figure. Incidentally, the pulled pork version is the only one that has absolutely zero reviews on Amazon, although the reviews on other Epic products refer to it indirectly as tasteless and horrible.

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Verdict: 1.5/5 – The Epic bar isn’t revolting, but it isn’t pleasing either. Manages to take multiple strong flavors and dull them into obscurity. Probably tastes like grandma.

Review: Burger King Extra Long Jalapeno Burger

Given that this is a Burger King review, you’re probably expecting me to start with a joke about how the service was terrible, the food was old, followed up by an obviously exaggerated joke about an employee pointing a loaded pistol at me, a joke that some lawyer will take seriously and actually email me with an offer to represent me in court. That isn’t going to happen.

I had a pleasant experience at a Burger King. My food was served fresh, in a timely manner, and the employee said “have a nice evening.” I think I even smelled lemon on the urinal puck in the bathroom, not that I got close enough to smell it, mind you.

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You see, I learned that the answer to a nice time at Burger King is pretty much the same as buying a house: location, location, location. Instead of going to the same place as I did for the mushroom Swiss burger, I found a new Burger King that I had never frequented before, one that specifically had an “our employees are not armed” sign on the front door. That one was also a joke, Mr. Lawyerman (that’s his name, incidentally, Lawyerman, which carries as many job opportunities as my real name: Sha’Meless Consuman). I was originally going to do a mythbusters-esque review on the Halloween Whopper and its apparent effects on the body, but Steve in HR warned that we’d both get fired if I posted photographic evidence.

Anyhow, the Burger King Extra Long Jalapeno Burger is essentially the extra long cheeseburger with jalapeno on top. That’s my review, thank you for stopping by, tip your cats and dogs, always spay and neuter your waiter, and never urinate on pure bleach.

I suppose I should elaborate.

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Burger King’s “extra long burger” is essentially fancy talk for “two burger patties on a hoagie bun.” The last time I ate a standard burger at Burger King was around the time the company had come out with their burger shots, the latest failed attempt to market said item, which Wikipedia points to taking place way back in 2009.

What you get on your jalapeño burger is two patties, onions, cheese, iceberg lettuce, ketchup, mayo, and “marinated jalapenos.” Marinated must be Italian or something, because it means pickled when translated into English. I can’t fault them for trying to spice up the language, so to speak, even if it leads to a future where Burger King starts advertising its mayo as oiled up egg yolks.

When it comes to flavor balancing, jalapenos basically represent the height of what you can expect from fast food culinary engineering. The jalapeño offers a flavorful kick to the sandwich, the capsaicin is partially neutralized by casein, a protein found in dairy products. This way you can offer a “bold” meal that won’t offend the delicate palate of the average fast food customer, the kind that guffaws at at hot salsa because medium is too hot and mild is pushing it.

It also works with the fact that Burger King tends to slather on the fixings, which goes to the benefit of the consumer because no matter how much extinguishing is going on, the jalapenos still have enough flavor to steal the show and dominate this burger. There were just enough on my sandwich to get a single pepper slice in each bite, balancing out the sweet and spicy to create what was actually a pretty good combination.

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Presently the extra long jalapeno burger is on the 2 for $5 menu, making it stand out among the boring options of the Big Fish, the Chicken Sandwich, and Burger King’s nearly copyright-infringing Big King. I’d make a joke about the 2 for $5 menu being made for the white bread, boring, mayonnaise eating crowd, but since that’s exactly what the menu is, all I’m doing is making social commentary.

Otherwise the sandwich by itself is $3.69, in which case you’re just better off spending the extra buck and change and getting two. I’d like to see Burger King expand this line of sandwiches, since the jalapenos feel like they’d go better with some dairy-based barbecue sauce. How about an extra long rodeo burger with jalapenos?

On a side note, have you ever noticed that the ketchup on the Burger King website looks like strawberry jelly? Again this is just a side thought.

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Ultimately the jalapeno extra long cheeseburger is one of the better “standard” burgers on the Burger King menu. Check it out.

Verdict: 3.5/5 – If you’re at Burger King and you have five bucks, pick up two of these.

Review: Exo Bar Sampler Pack

I’ll be honest with you, fellow consumers, this review happens to be one that I let peer pressure push me into. I first heard about this product via our producer Dan, who asked me to call him that because he doesn’t want his real name attached to this website. I said “absolutely not, Chris, I mean Dan.” My real choice of words was a little more colorful, but that’s another story for another time.

If you don’t know what an Exo Bar is, you’re probably not the kind of person who responds to someone’s disgust at the thought of eating bugs with “yea, but think about the protein.” An Exo Bar is a protein bar made with cricket powder, and I can psychically hear the sound of 80% of you closing this page in disgust while the other 19% are intrigued and the last 1% are preparing to take my presumably blubbery ass to task in the comment section for disrespecting your gains. I mean no disrespect, put down the protein shake and don’t smash your keyboard.

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The benefit of these protein bars is that they are gluten free, soy free, grain free, and contain no dairy. Crickets are high in the same stuff we get out of meats, from omega 3 fatty acids to iron and calcium, with minimal impact on the planet. Unlike cows, and anecdotal evidence about human women, crickets don’t emit methane in their farts. The secretion is collected, boiled, and used to glaze supermarket hams, which is why they’re always so expensive around Thanksgiving when crickets usually hibernate.

Crickets also hold a special place in Chinese culture, where the Tang Dynasty back in AD755 popularized the blood sport of cricket fighting as a diversion while scientists perfected a powdered orange beverage that would one day be capable of going into space. In my research, I found that the consumption of crickets is actually quite popular in the country of not-America, where people are unable to keep animals alive, and this isn’t going toward a PETA joke.

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I received three bars for this review, Cocoa Nut, Blueberry Vanilla, and Apple Cinnamon.

The first bar I tried is the cocoa nut bar, which solidified my presumption that this whole product line is a well coordinated prank. You see, these bars are made with cricket powder, not cricket chunks, so there aren’t any actual insect pieces to bite into. To make up for it, apparently, Exo adds in things that look and crunch like insect parts, like almonds, cocoa nibs, and flax seeds.

The Cocoa Nut bar is pretty tasty, it is a dark chocolate with a powerfully bitter taste, and mixes well with the almonds and sweet hint of honey. If you like dark chocolate, and I mean bitter dark chocolate, you’ll probably enjoy this.

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The hardest part, as I said, is all mental. You’re eating something you know is cricket, and the cocoa nibs are bitter kinda like you’d expect a cricket to taste, and it crunches like an insect’s exoskeleton. In short: You’re not eating a full cricket, but it sure does feel like it.

The blueberry vanilla lives up to its name, in the sense that it doesn’t taste like blueberries or vanilla. This one has a heavy flavor of not-blueberry, which I found to be apricots by looking through the ingredient list.  The blueberry concoction also comprises of blueberries in apple juice concentrate, and the product also contains strawberries, so make of that what you will. It’s rather common for fruit products to be cut with other fruits, but this is bizarre, and Exo would’ve been better off calling this an apricot bar.

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The Apple Cinnamon bar is my favorite, but not because of its apple or cinnamon virtues of which it has neither. On the ingredient list, apple is superseded by plum paste and apricots, making this more of a plum apricot bar than an apple cinnamon. Great if you like plums, but the taste doesn’t match the description.

Furthermore, there apparently isn’t enough cinnamon to list as its own ingredient, falling under “spice.” Technically speaking I can’t prove that there even is cinnamon in this bar. I’d rate this one higher but I practically broke a tooth biting into what appeared to be a small piece of a pit. This is what happens when you cut your fruit bars with other fruits.

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One thing to note is that people with crustacean shellfish allergies might be allergic to crickets, at least that’s what the packaging says. Further research shows that crickets and crustaceans share a lot of chemical properties in their exoskeletons, which makes the above statement a little more sensible.

Ultimately these bars are really for the hardcore exercisers, people who labor over their protein counts and have a stash of protein bars and powders as meal replacements. These really aren’t for snacking, or for people like you and me. At the same time, it probably tastes a lot better than many of the hardcore protein bars.

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Verdict: 3/5 – I took off points because in two of the bars you couldn’t even taste the advertised flavors. The Exo website is stupidly difficult to navigate. The bars are also rather expensive, $3.50 apiece at normal price.

Nutritional Facts: (See website)