Thursday, 27 June 2013

Stouffer's Bistro Meatballs & Mozzarella Crustini

A thoroughly modern family getting ready to enjoy their Stouffer's Bistro Crustinis. Young and old alike, not to mention even the family zombie, can't get enough of these mozzarella and meatball delights.
What is a crustini? Is it a stale panini? A toupee made of dried linguine? A crotchety octogenarian's martini? A barnacle-encrusted bikini? Language, like food, is always changing and here, the nice folks at Stouffer's have introduced not only a new word but a new food to accompany this creation. This is a company that has been bringing families together over frozen entrees since 1946 and with their Bistro line-up of products, they've now created a zippy hand-held single-serving entree for the contemporary condo-dwelling depressed single person, filled with regrets and shattered dreams, that they can enjoy alone, either over the kitchen sink or huddled at the tiny IKEA bistro table that they bought on a whim during a moment of hopefulness and wishful thinking about their future situation. Still, they can sit with their laptop propped in front of them and have one hand free to poke the millions of friends that like them in virtual space while the other hand can grip this Stouffer's treat. They can even grind up their antidepressants and sprinkle the powder right into the molten mozzarella and meatball Crustini centre. Or maybe I just sound old and crusty in my evaluation of modern social media living, which is why I think the Crustini was really made for me. As a stay-at-home dad of three kids, with barely any friends, online or in reality, it's really me sitting by the heart-warming glow of the microwave (my version of the fireplace), in my fast food stained bathrobe or if I'm feeling more energetic, my condiment splattered thrift store bought knock-off track suit that says Addiddas over the left breast, waiting the mandatory two minutes for this thing to be ready so I can wolf it down and get back to the laundry, dish washing and wasting time reading Missed Connections on Craigslist while passing intestinal gas so bad it could melt Banlon socks from fifty feet away. Which led me to believe that if you're going to cook up something so effective in your stomach it could be categorized as a weapon, it's not a bad bet to do it with one of these Crustini contraptions. First off, they come with their own cardboard crisping sleeve that you slide the Crustini into before putting it into the microwave. Truly the next step in radiated cooking and the sleeve performs two functions, acting as both a crisping device for the Crustini's Italian herb crusted carapace and functioning as a hand protector from this very same searing surface when you hold it during the eating process. As you move down the length of the Crustini with each toothy bite, you simply peel away another part of the perforated crisping sleeve to reveal more of this delectable treat. Of course, all this edible technology and ease of consumption begs the question, how do these things taste? Well, I've been ripped-off before in the meatball category when it comes to quick, ready-prepared foods and I've seen the promise of a picture dashed against the meager rocks of reality. But in this instance, I'm happy to say, the Crustini didn't disappoint. Although small, about the size of rabbit droppings, there were plenty of meatballs packed into the core of the Crustini, sometimes peeking shyly, sometimes proclaiming loudly, 'look at me," amongst the melted mozzarella and slightly sweet, almost Chef Boyardee-ish tomato sauce. A few dashes of hot sauce helped the cause. The crust, though not exactly flaky as the box proclaims, still maintained a crusty composure and the Italian herb dusting with its various dehydrated and powdered ingredients took me back to that time in Tuscany although I've never been there but I have been to an Olive Garden in Sudbury, which is pretty close if you squint your eyes and forget the nickel mines, so either way, you could say the taste transported me. In the ingredient listings I was happy to see some of my favourite food additives that I've come to know and love like fungal protease, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate and L-cysteine hydrochloride so I knew I was in good hands with these Stouffer's folks and I'm ready to try their other Crustini flavours. The crisping sleeve boldly reads, "Heat, crisp & go!" obviously in tune with our busy times but I say heat, crisp & sit down in your sauce-spattered, partially-open bathrobe and let the world spin madly by while you savor mini-meatballs and dream of a Tuscan sunset over the nickel mines.  

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tim Hortons Duelling Donuts

I don't normally act like a shill for a large company but this is a piece of Tim Horton's news that definitely needs mentioning. Now some folks dream of fame and fortune, others of great scientific discoveries and then there are those who simply want to go down in history for designing a winning donut. Well, if you're the latter then get your glazed creative juices flowing because Tim Hortons is running the Duelling Donuts competition, the winning donut judged and decided by none other than Jason Priestley. The winner takes home ten grand, which is enough to turn your mobile home into a double-wide and still have money left over to buy the Stompin' Tom Connors boxed set, three pounds of margarine and an ice fishing hut. You can check the donuts already entered into the competition to see what you're up against and then use the online virtual donut-maker to come up with your own unique creation. You can choose a ring, solid (with choice of creme fillings), Dutchie, cruller or apple fritter as a base and from there you can get all Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo with your donut decorations. Not to mention the flavour pairings you can experiment with. Did I mention Jason Priestley is doing the judging. Now many of us remember him mostly for his starring Broadway role in Das Boot, The Musical, but it's really the underground and groundbreaking TV series, Beverly Hills, 90210, where he was able to showcase his insanely dramatic talents (see image below for the recently reunited cast photo). So expect some tough donut judging because as serious as this man is about acting, so too is he about donuts. For all the details go to
The original cast of Beverly Hills 90210 reunited for this photo shoot. From left to right, Jenny Garth, Shannon Doughnutty, Ian Zitsmeyer, Fortunato Austin-Spleen, Joe "The Hermaphrodite" Tatas, Gabby Carparts, Tori Spellingbee, Jason "The Defrocked" Priestley and Blimpy Perry (holding Gerta the suckling pig of Beverly Hills and official show mascot).

Friday, 21 June 2013

Tyrrell's Sweet Chili and Red Pepper Potato Chips

It's a free-for-all where Tyrrell's English crisps are involved. Here, an entire Shakespearean tragedy is re-enacted in this amateur theatre production of Hamlet the Cannibal Hippo of Hereford.
In Grade 8 my gym teacher once looked at me and inexplicably yelled, "Laba, if you ever have kids they're gonna look like potato chips." I still don't know what he meant or what prompted him to blurt out this comment in the first place. Maybe he was just unhappy with my feeble pushups or snail-pace rope climbing. Yes, I might have been skinny and non-athletic but did that necessarily mean I carried potato chip DNA. Would I one day hand that 'tater gene down to my future children? A frightening thought. Especially if my children did resemble potato chips because if so I would probably eat them. Just like the Greek god, Titan Cronus, made famous in a Goya painting (those were the days before Instagram), except he devoured his kids for completely different reasons. His motivation was because he feared he would be overthrown by his children one day (tell me about it) and me, because my kids had sour cream and onion flavouring. But now that I have kids and they look nothing like potato chips, I'm thoroughly relieved and my penchant for potato chips leads me down different avenues of crispy investigation. Which directed me to this British crisps company out of Herefordshire. Now I know Herefordshire is famous for its cattle (the famed Hereford cow with its distinctive reddish-brown body colour that's very close in hue to my Uncle Benny's toupee), cider production and the fact it's still legal to shoot a Welshman on a Sunday in Hereford as long as you're using a longbow and the Hereford Cathedral is within sight. Well, now you can add potatoes to that eminent list with locally grown potatoes, some sporting some very aristocratic names, the Lady Claire and Lady Rosetta being two good examples. Honestly, after tasting these chips I think all these potatoes deserve knighthoods. Hand-cooked in small batches, these chips have that natural crisp texture that food additive dusted potato chips can only fake like a bad Elvis impersonator in a stained white pantsuit performing out back of a 7-Eleven using a dumpster lid as a stage. The sweet chili and red pepper variety I sampled struck that perfect balance between spicy and sweet, neither upstaging the other, like Sir Laurence Olivier directing Don Knotts and Goldie Hawn in Hamlet. In the ingredients listings I was surprised to see ginger, star anise and basil, which I think you can safely say and certainly taste, adds a depth to these 'tater wafers that round out the more aggressive notes of the jalapeno chili and cayenne pepper speckling. The added beauty is each chip has its own unique curl and twist to its shape, no two seemingly alike much like snowflakes or socks in your drawer and with their edges rimmed by remnants of 'tater skin, taking the uniformity out of chips as we know them, each crisp has its own personality. As if the chips weren't good enough, the packaging adds a whole other level of enjoyment to your munching. Each bag comes emblazoned with a vintage photo of intriguing-looking English people engaging in peculiar activities. Eccentric is what I believe they call these people overseas. On this side of the pond we simply say crazy. The sweet chili and red pepper bag comes adorned with two stern-looking gents with impressive mustaches riding in what appears to be a tiny turn-of-the-century fire engine and wearing firemen hats that look as if they were stolen from the Smurf village. As if this wasn't entertaining enough, the company invites people to send in their own photos of their eccentric family or friends along with a story about them so if you have an old snapshot of Uncle Ralph in a Speedo milking rattlesnakes by the banks of the Mississippi in 1940 or Aunt Eleanor wearing her retractable motorized pompadour you can win free chips for a year or even more. Actually, the website abounds with plenty of fun stuff, good for perusing while crunching through bags of these crisps though I find it interesting that on the UK site,, about the spicy chips I tried it says, "Extinguish With A Pint Of Bitter but on the American site,, the pint of bitter is switched out for a cup of iced tea. Maybe the result of all those shows about interventions on American reality TV but if a company can't advise people to try their chips with a nice pint of bitter or Pabst Blue Ribbon or Budweiser for that matter, you might as well go back to Prohibition.
Ah, a chip to soothe the savage beast. No doubt this hippo has lost his fondness for human head meat after trying these English potato chips.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Aunt Jemima Griddlecake Sandwiches

Do you want a heart attack but keep falling short of the mark? Well, the problem is you're not doubling down your bet. Or boxing your trifecta. Or placing a straight up number in roulette. The sure thing never pays off big in the odds but with the Aunt Jemima Griddle Cake, it's only a matter of time before you win the jackpot on the long shot. If it's cardiac arrest you're after, this is a sure way to hedge your bets. But like all gambles, you just have to be patient. Still, with an egg, sausage and cheese sandwiched between two maple-syrup injected pancakes, really, how long do you have to wait? Well, it depends on your daily caloric intake but if you bought these things in the first place you're a prime candidate or ripe for the picking or any other phrase you can imagine your doctor uttering as he hooks you up to the ECG machine. But you can just sit back in your flimsily-tied hospital gown, letting the breeze blow up your back and down your ass crack, knowing you did the job right and that if you do die, Aunt Jemima will be waiting for you on the other side, a heaping plate of griddle cake sandwiches held out to you in heaven-sent greeting. What's the saturated and trans fat percentage in one of these critters? Well, enough to fell an elephant but probably not a Teamster's union member. And the sodium content could make a salt lick big enough for a barnyard. But who cares about that when these things, as advertised on the box, have "delicious syrup flavor built in." I love the idea of removing various steps to make your breakfast that much more efficient. Speaking for myself, I tend to be very groggy as the day begins and handling utensils or having to find various items in the muddled mess of the refrigerator is beyond my capabilities as birdsong plays on the frayed neurons of my brain. Hand-held breakfast sandwiches are a step in the right direction but then injecting syrup flavour right into the flapjack, thus eliminating extra needless steps like pouring syrup, is a stroke of genius. Or just a stroke. Either way, I take my hat and toupee off to the good folks at Aunt Jemima for helping me start my day with a minimum amount of wheezing from overexerting myself trying to assemble breakfast ingredients. Truly this seems to me the kind of concept that was dreamed up by food engineers with stocks in mall scooter companies or else two drunk guys on their way to Dollywood in a Winnebago. As for the taste, well, immediately upon opening the microwave door the rich aroma of synthesized maple syrup played gently through my nose hairs like a sweet summer breeze. The pancake consistency was a bit floppy and gummy and although floppy is an inherent trait in the body of a pancake, using two of them to sandwich egg, sausage and cheese just seems dangerous to me. Anything could slip out onto a lap or the whole thing could just disintegrate in your hand, fingers poking through to molten processed cheddar cheese. Luckily, this is where the gummy texture of the pancakes came into play and though the sponginess of the griddlecakes felt odd to me, they held up well and didn't give way. The egg was, well, your typical punched out egg patty that pretty much had no taste but provided a stable surface for the cheese to sag upon. I had high hopes for the sausage part of this breakfast sandwich equation but was underwhelmed and didn't find it sausage-y enough. It could simply be that the intense built-in syrup flavouring over-rode the more delicate nuances of this griddlecake curiosity. On the plus side, the time and energy I saved with this all-inclusive breakfast sandwich, gave me the momentum and inspiration to behead a couple of Barbies and Kens for my Day of the Hula Dead photo shoot.
Who can resist a delicious griddle cake sandwich on the Dia de los Hula Muertos?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Pierre Drive Thru Bacon Cheeseburger

Science never sleeps. While we're slumbering and snoring innocently at night, in laboratories across the country things are burbling away in test tubes, growing in Petri dishes, being extruded, extracted, expanded, dehydrated, billions of molecular patterns and shifts being measured and documented by computers, all for the betterment of this world and more importantly, to bring us a frozen bacon cheeseburger that can be microwaved in seventy-five seconds. Of course there are some other innovative offshoots to scientific experimentation such as brontosaurus' with human heads or G.I. Joe clowns, something the military has long been working on (see above image), but a bacon cheeseburger that is pretty much ready in less time than it takes you to put on your underpants is truly a marvel of modern science. I reviewed a Pierre Drive Thru spicy chicken sandwich previously and was not appalled by the results so I was really looking forward to this other permutation in their product line because I love bacon cheeseburgers but if I have to wait longer than two minutes for one I go insane. Again it's packaged in an attractive drive thru burger box that faithfully reproduces what you'd find at your average fast food chain, cultivating the experience and giving you the sense that you just drove somewhere to buy this thing from an unusually perky late-night window employee at three in the morning when, really, you haven't left your easy chair except to shuffle to the microwave. Even astronauts don't have it this easy when it comes to feeding time and they're in zero gravity. As with many frozen foods, especially those that are visibly built from many layered parts, a kind of frozen Frankenstein if you will, it's rarely love at first sight when you view them through their transparent wrapping. But you can't judge a book by its cover nor a bacon cheeseburger by it frozen state and to say the transformation in the microwave is complete doesn't do due justice to the magic and mystery of radioactive heat. The sesame seed bun mimics a McDonald's one almost to perfection, both in texture, flavour and that moist, cushion-like quality that reminds me of things I find growing under logs or scuttling beneath rocks. The meat of the matter, the burger, had the proper sodium tingle and after-burn, its personality subdued and yet somehow pleasing in its vapid generality. Much like cafeteria food, which can have a certain allure, especially if you've starved yourself for half a day. Again, melted American cheese, like in other frozen foods I've sampled, tried to rear its formidable plasticized head but proved no match for the microwave, turning to a synthetic dairy ooze, primordial almost in its consistency, as if returning to the laboratory where it was once born and bred. Still, it looked pretty good dripping off the burger and was a good counterpoint to the smoky sodium nitrate  sting of the bacon. I was very concerned about how the bacon would turn out with this type of product, more so in texture than in taste because as long as some pork remnant resides in the strip of meat, the bacon flavour is a given to a certain degree. But how would its warp and woof hold up to radioactivity? Well, there was a whisper of bacon flavour as I well suspected but the bacon had a bit of an elasticized nature, pulling back when you tried to bite through it. It was a bit of a tug of war but I don't mind a food that fights back as long as it's dead first. Overall, this bacon cheeseburger met all of the criteria for drive thru glory, not aspiring to be more than the sum of its parts, whatever those parts might be, even the ones with scientific unpronounceable names, but still making you believe it's more than what it seems. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Little Duckers

For the reviewing of Little Duckers "When Sticky Pigs Fly," I thought I'd bring along a little pig and a little pig farmer for the tasting.
When I was growing up I remember my mother always had a jar of chicken fat on the stove that she used to cook with. Schmaltz was the lifeblood of any Jewish household, flowing through our veins like the sludge of memory itself, rich with the nostalgia of family, especially those who had passed away, mainly from cardiac arrest from eating too much stuff cooked in chicken fat in the first place. Mt. Sinai Hospital really should have had their own chicken fat casualty ward. As my father always says, fat is where the flavour is. And what chicken fat is to the Jews, duck fat is to the French. And they have a fancier name for it too. Graisse de canard as opposed to schmaltz. Evokes a whole different image. You get a suave beret-sporting man with a baguette in one hand and the memoirs of Jean-Paul Sartre in the other instead of Moishe Goldfarb with his shorts pulled up to his chest, white socks pulled up to his knees, floral print Rayon shirt barely covering his paunch and a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth that he removes only to take another bite of schmaltz-slathered pastrami during a poker game before hitting the schvitz to sweat out some of the meat debris. The fact is, you can add duck fat to just about anything and spiffy up the most lowly of dishes just through associating with this web-footed bird and its fancy French pedigree whereas with chicken fat you just get a heart attack, and if you live, a lifetime of Jello and steamed broccoli. Plus duck fat tastes really good and things done up in duck fat taste doubly delicious, except perhaps a duck fat Slushie. But it's this culinary knowledge that's the brainstorm behind bistro's new take-out window theme (last year it was bacon) on Granville Island, a bona fide no-brainer of donut holes cooked in duck fat that actually took a bit of brains to conceive of in the first place. The call was put out to all the good citizens of Vancouver to come up with a winning idea and it was Kim Payne who dreamed up donut holes as the take-out window's focus. The Edible Canada team took it one step further and figured frying them in duck fat couldn't hurt. Duck fat, donuts, what's not to like? Now I know what you're saying. Why pay six bucks for five of these critters when I could make these at home easily?
All you need is one of these:
and a few of these:
Then you simply squeeze the duck to get the fat out. This is the difficult part because the duck will probably put up a fight. After you've been nipped by a duck beak a few times and have the sound of angry quacks haunting your dreams, you may want to rethink the situation and just head down to Granville Island and grab an order of the aptly dubbed "Little Duckers." In four finger-licking, lap-dripping, artery-clogging flavours none the less. It's not the duck fat that will do in you in actually but more the dough and toppings that are the culprits. Nevertheless, who cares when such pleasures await the adventurous palate and the donut hole connoisseur. There's Bring The Payne with spicy maple syrup and sea salt, Nutty Duckers, an homage to Fraser Valley honey with Agassiz hazelnuts, Chubs MaGrubs hiding a foie gras core and sporting a sea-salted caramel sauce toupee or my sampling of the day, When Sticky Pigs Fly, a veritable symphony of double smoked bacon, salted caramel and warm chocolate sauce adorning the donut balls of delight. So, the verdict. Well, I had to fight off an inanimate plastic pig (pictured below), who came to life like a Playmobil zombie when he got a whiff of these things. Does that give you a sense of this savoury and sweet composition? I also had to fight off my wife, which was no easy task because she's tough as nails when it comes to wrestling for dessert. But luckily the close quarters of the mini van worked in my favour because her seat belt strap got caught in the door while I chose to stay unbuckled and thus had the advantage. The duck fat, besides the flavour, definitely creates a density and delectable crust in the doughy coating although I was a little surprised that the interior wasn't a little lighter and fluffier. But that could be due to the fact that I didn't gobble them down immediately as I wanted to race back to the old mini van to set up my photo shoot. Still, twenty minutes later with one donut hole left as I was driving down Fraser, at the first red light I hit I wolfed it down like it was my last meal. Honestly it's a marriage made in heaven, or hell, depending on how you think but who cares as long as these donut holes are there to keep you company. Their slogan is "So Duckn' Good," and all I can say is "damned fuckin' right" if you ask me. Available at the take-out window 11am to 7pm daily all summer long.
I can see paradise by the dashboard light but it's no meat loaf for me. Actually it looks like Meat Loaf lived on a diet of these things and if this watchful pig pictured above ever grew wings like the object of his desire's namesake that he's sniffing, he still wouldn't get off the ground after a plate of these doughy, bacon-studded treats.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Aunt Jemima Sausage, Egg and Cheese Croissant Sandwich

Some folks get very cranky when they don't start their day with a tasty and nutritious breakfast sandwich.
How many times have you heard people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Without it you just don't have the energy for your various work or downtime activities, whether they be accounting, taxidermy, serial killing, dry cleaning, watch repair, animal control, sponge-bathing the elderly, fellating sad men in bus stop shelters at six in the morning, collecting sock lint for the government, taking peyote or preparing for a Tiddly Winks competition in Atlantic City. But in this day and age it's enough just trying to get all your proteins without worrying about your proper trans and saturated fat intakes. Thankfully, Aunt Jemima has the solution with these nifty fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand croissant breakfast sandwiches. I love foods that come in patty form as they look so sleek and uniform and contemporary, like a sea otter sitting on a a piece of modern Danish furniture. With this breakfast fabrication you get not just one but two patties in egg and sausage varieties and they stack so nicely on top of each other you wonder why nature didn't make them this way in the first place and save people a lot of time, energy and having to wear shower caps on the assembly line until their retirement day. I have to say, for the first time in years I awoke with a bounce in my step and a twinkle in my rheumy eye knowing that these wondrous creatures were slumbering in the deep freeze of my refrigerator, waiting to kick start my morning with the pleasures that only preformed patty proteins can deliver. The early bird may get the worm but it's the late-rising human that gets the breakfast croissant sandwich. Now, if you're like myself and live by the motto, "time is money," because the cheap wristwatches you keep buying stop working after a week and you have to buy a new one from the street vendor who claims they're real Rolexes, then the conventional oven method of heating these things is not in your vocabulary. No, only the microwave will do when you need to get up and go and move from the bed to the couch in your bathrobe (unless you have a sofa bed in which case you don't have to move at all) and start rolling coins from your pickle jar full of change, which is an energy consuming activity, not to mention the time involved (there's that time is money thing again). So, into the nuclear reactor this thing went. I must say, in its frozen state the croissant sandwich doesn't look particularly pleasing. Its jailhouse pallor and diminutive nature make it a candidate for the sickliest-looking breakfast sandwich this side of the equator but I was hoping that like a butterfly, it would emerge from it cellophane cocoon as a beautiful creature ready to take flight in the world of culinary delights. Well, it certainly looked better after its microwave spa although the croissant isn't really a croissant as you know it. Rather it imitates a croissant shape but just barely, like an bad celebrity impersonator at a rundown casino showroom where the biggest draw of the evening is that everyone in mall scooters gets a free plate of chicken wings if they show their senior's I.D. Don't get me wrong though for this thing shows heart and I can empathize because if you ever saw my own celebrity impersonator one-man show, Don Knotts, The Man Behind the Myth, you'd want to throw a croissant at my head, perhaps followed up with an ashtray or highball glass. Nevertheless, there was a kind of faux-fluffy texture to the bread and the pork sausage patty inside lost some of its gray complexion, showing promising brown discolorations that intimated that a hot grill might have touched its surface at one point in its conception. The egg disc had a spongy consistency and kind of bounced back with each bite like a miniature trampoline. There was a decidedly pungent aftertaste, almost funky, like what I'd imagine a well-used oven mitt would taste like if you decided to chew on it. Luckily the thoroughly-melted, almost liquified slice of American processed cheese tempered this flavour profile and the smoky sausage with its greasy residue chipped in to the effort. I guess you can say these little guys don't try to hide behind their monoglycerides but wear them proudly on their emulsified insides. Still, in the end these sandwiches strike me as sadder than a George Jones song on a scratchy jukebox but that's a kind of sadness I don't mind as long as there's a shot of whiskey in my morning coffee to complete the experience.
When you've got three mouths to feed, time and money is the key. This sandwich will waste one but utilize the other wisely (I'll let you be the judge of which is which) and as long as those mouths are connected to tiny heads, one or two of these breakfast sandwiches should suffice.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pierre Drive Thru Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The idea that I can savor a drive-thru style sandwich without having to drive through anything makes me very happy because I always get stage fright talking to those disembodied order-taking microphones. Usually the person on the other end is an overly-confident and exuberant high school student with an NFL-grade headset, working double shifts to save up enough money to buy the newest Samsung Galaxy so they can connect with all their friends on all their various social media platforms and talk about the idiot who can't order through the drive-thru and then pulls up too far away at the take-out window and has to get out of the car to get his food, completely missing the point of the drive-thru concept in the first place and is sweating profusely by now from all the anxiety that the whole procedure has left him with, not to mention yelling at the microphone loud enough to be heard three blocks away, making him very unsavory to the high school student handing him his burger bag when all the poor guy wanted to do was savor some fast food in the first place with a minimum of human contact except for having to ask for more ketchup. Sound familiar to you or is it just me? Well, anyway, that's just the tip of my neurotic iceberg. This is how I imagine the drive-thru conversation going before I even leave the house.

Me: I'll have a Big Mac, please.
Crackling microphone: I'm sorry, sir. Did you say wombat?
Me: No, Big Mac.
Crackling microphone: Fries with that?
Me: With my wombat?
Crackling microphone: I'm sorry sir. We don't serve wombats.
Me: I said Big Mac!
Crackling microphone: Like, what is a wombat anyway. Is that like a flying rat?
Me: No, it's not a flying rat. It's a marsupial from Australia.
Crackling microphone: We don't have soup from Australia either. Do you need more time with the menu?
Me: I said Big Mac! Big Mac! Big Mac!
Crackling microphone: Crack! Did you say crack? This is McDonald's, not a crack house. I'm afraid I'm going to have to call my supervisor. I think she's going to call the police.
Me: I said Big Mac! Not crack.
Crackling microphone: Yes, I heard you the first time. Do you want the meal deal?
Me: Sure. Why not.
Crackling microphone: Okay. That's one wombat, two Australian soups, three grams of crack and one Big Mac Meal Deal. That'll be six-hundred and seventy-five dollars and twenty-four cents. Please drive thru to the second window.

So, with those thoughts in mind, when I spotted this drive-thru food facsimile at my local Safeway, I was justifiably relieved. The answer to all my existential drive-thru crises lay before me in the freezer section and it even came in packaging that resembled your typical take-out burger or chicken sandwich encasing. The spicy chicken sandwich called to me, like a siren of the poultry seas and my hands were shaking as I got this thing home and flung it in the microwave. Taking care, firstly, to open the cellophane wrapping at one end as per the instructions so as not to explode an already dead chicken and not add insult to previous grievous injury. My biggest worry was how the bun would hold up to radiation cooking. Bread and microwaves are not usually a good combination. Instead of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis you get Don Rickles and Donny Osmond. But the description on the box boasted about a "hearth baked corn dusted bun,"and with microwavable instructions obviously there was something injected into this bun built to withstand radioactivity. Could it be the fungal enzymes listed in the bun's ingredients? I looked them up and was launched into vast and extensive scientific studies on the use of fungal enzymes in industrial applications, had a crash course on the use of enzymes in food since Babylonian times and future uses of fungal enzymes in everything from animal feed to biochemistry to the pulp and paper industry. Never did I realize that enzyme production from fungi could be so fascinating or so tasty. I'm not sure that's what made the bun particularly toothsome and I'm not sure "hearth baked" is the right adjective for something that just emerged from the microwave but the bun was not soggy, just a little damp, which was actually not all that unpleasant and the corn-dusting was quite evident, visually and in spirit. There was a sweetness to the bread that contrasted well with the spiciness of the breading on the chicken cutlet within (or as they spell it on the box, "cutlette," no doubt the fancy French spelling to keep consistent with their nifty line-drawing logo outline of a little chef's head with chef's toque and suggested mustache not to mention the Pierre brand name). There's no doubt that the spice level is kept well within the parameters of the average fast food-trained palate and the chicken breast meat is almost as tender as a mother gazing lovingly into her new-born baby's eyes though certainly not as moist. Nevertheless, I devoured the whole thing and was not the worse for wear afterwards. The box does show it with tomato and lettuce but science hasn't achieved that level of microwavable genetically modified vegetable matter yet so it does arrive as naked as the day it was born from the factory. You may wish to forgo the condiments and do this thing bareback, so to speak, but I added ketchup and mustard and mayo and it made the experience that much better. There were some uneven heating issues in the cutlet but I think a couple of more seconds in the microwave would've solved that problem without turning the bun to mush.  On the website they describe the company as "a fully integrated manufacturer of value-added proteins, Philly Steaks and handheld sandwiches." When food and science mix with language like this, I for one, am won over. I've seen the future of value-added proteins and it looks bright to me, especially from the light emanating from the window of the microwave. And hey, I'll take a handheld sandwich over a handheld device any day.
Birds of a feather flock together, especially when there's a Pierre Spicy Chicken Sandwich in the vicinity. I had to beat the crows away to enjoy this delicacy.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Ruffles New Loaded Potato Skins Potato Chips

The creation of a new potato chip flavour is on par, for me, with the discovery of a new galaxy or never-before-seen animal species. Much like the Barbiesaurus, pictured above, thought extinct for centuries but rediscovered by Professor Gluckman (he's the one she's frolicking with while his assistant, Boris, looks on) in an old toy box in an abandoned building in Buenos Aires. So there I was scouring the supermarket aisles looking for something new to test the powers of my palate with when these new Ruffles pretty much jumped out at me. I think it was the image on the packaging that got me. Because the sight of a loaded potato skin is an awe-inspiring thing. You can have your Mount Rushmores, your Grand Canyons, your Canadian Rockies, European cathedrals, Mona Lisas or Sistine Chapels. I'll take a fully loaded potato skin drooping cheese, bacon and sour cream every time. For eating or just gazing at, my heart skips a beat when I'm in the vicinity of one of these flayed spuds' heavily-ladened skins. The description on the back of the package invites you to open the bag and take a deep breath. I did just that. Like a sommelier my nose is well-trained except my expertise is in the art of simulated flavours with its many nuances and layered aromas so that even if the smell of bacon is overpowering I can still detect a subtle hint of green onion beneath the porky whiff. My first snort didn't give me much but then I realized that, just like with a fine wine, you need to let some oxygen into the bag to activate the artificial flavouring's slumbering chemical additives and let the aromas circulate with the air molecules to bring out the full potential of the potato chip. My second sniff was far more satisfying, especially after clearing my nasal cavities with a couple of good blows into a Kleenex, and a kind of earthy, potato skin aroma rose up to catch way back in my nose's cilia, triggering my neurons into believing it was potato skin I was smelling, mixed with the heady scent of bacon, cheese and all the fixings. But really, it's no great stretch because it's already a potato chip simulating a potato skin so that's half the battle won right there. Honestly, a potato chip that tastes like a potato? I never thought I'd live to see the day. They can make potato chips to taste like chicken wings, onion rings, even Singapore Slings (why isn't anyone working on this?), but this new creation is truly unique. The flavour was far more subtle than I expected and it took just over half a bag before I really started to get the full range of tastes the image on the bag promised. Surprisingly, with as robust a mix as this potato chip is spritzed with, there's very little afterburn or lingering aftertaste. It's as clean as a mountain spring of monosodium glutamate and almost as refreshing. The flavour additives cling well to the ridged surfaces and when I read the ingredients list and saw the words "specially selected potatoes," I knew these Ruffles people weren't fooling around with just some knock-off flavour that you might find at a dollar store with potatoes grown near Chernobyl. No, I imagine these potatoes being hand-selected by spud experts, probed and prodded and passing the same tests you may have had to endure in order to secure a life insurance policy. I think the only way to top these things is to crumble up a bag of them and sprinkle them over real loaded potato skins. The thought of it is almost heart-stopping. Just be sure, if you are to try this at home, that you have a defibrillator handy.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Humpty Dumpty Party Mix Snack Mix

These two bright and shiny people really know how to break the ice at parties. What's their secret? Well, having a bag of Humpty Dumpty Party Mix close at hand doesn't hurt.
I was never good at parties. I'm still not but with three young kids I don't go to many parties anymore unless they're kids' birthday parties in which case I'm occasionally a hit because I'm pretty much an idiot and some kids find this amusing. As with my own kids I'm not above, say, sticking a G.I. Joe appendage up my nose if I think it will elicit a laugh. Often times some kids, usually my own, will just pipe up and tell me I'm a horses's ass. And other kids will just rat me out when they see me snagging all the pizza and cake because, the fact is, it's my kids invited to the birthday party, not me and I just kind of insinuate myself into the festivities until I can scour the snack table, Hoover up some food and then leave. In my twenties and thirties I wasn't even in the kitchen at parties as that old song proclaims so much as hiding under the sink. I was no good at small talk, no good at big talk and every time I did decide to say something I usually put my foot in my mouth. That is, when it could fit with all of the snack mix I had crammed inside my maw. The fact is, if it wasn't for snack mix, I would never go to parties at all. The years may not have been kind to me now that I'm balding and have something akin to woman's breasts on my chest but my palate remains well-honed and as finely tuned as a concert Steinway, even after a monkey has banged away on it and peed on the keys. So when I tried this Humpty Dumpty bag of fun and goodness for the first time I knew I'd found that perfect party mix balance of seasoning, starch and invigorating chemical additives. Natural and artificial flavours combine in perfect harmony, like technology and nature working together to build a better, tastier snack-filled future. Firstly, the use of classic corn chips illustrates the fact that although you can't teach an old dog new tricks, sometimes the old dog's worn-out tricks are just fine so long as the animal isn't incontinent. Secondly, torula yeast. What is it? Is it edible? It sounds so exotic I didn't want to look it up and ruin the romance and enigma of its existence. Well, I looked it up anyway and its description has done nothing to dull its enchantment. Essentially it's a flavouring widely used in processed and pet foods, made from wood sugars that are a byproduct of paper production and is known for its marginally meaty and delicate taste. I like to think of it as the foie gras of snack food yeast species. I knew there was a meaty undercurrent in this snack mix and now I know from whence it came. But the charm of this snack mix doesn't end there. There's also something known as a "ringolo" made from potato that's about the size of an engagement ring if you were marrying a little person and has a delicious crunch that you can hear echo in your skull like Mr. Potato Head falling down a well and calling for help. Then there's a magnificent cheese construction. It's not quite a Cheezie and it's not quite a Cheeto, nor a Cheez Doodle or a Cheese Pleezer for that matter. It's like the bastard child if the four of them had an orgy and the child inherited the best of all their genetic traits. I'm not sure how one child could emerge from four cheese things mating but in the snack world anything is possible. The only weak link in the mix are the pretzels. They're okay but needed a saltier presence and a bit of more of a sweet, yeasty flourish to their finish. But honestly, knowing Humpty Dumpty is a Canadian company, they've done this country proud. Wayne Gretzky's accomplishments pale in comparison to this party mix's influence. And for my money, if Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall and broke into this snack mix, I wouldn't even attempt to put him back together again.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Pringles Pizza Flavour Baked Crispy Stix

Baby Borbo and his pet boll weevil getting ready to enjoy some of these crispy treats. Baby Borbo smartly wears goggles so he doesn't poke an eye out with a pizza stick.
I'll eat most anything that's pizza flavoured except maybe gallbladders, boll weevils or pubic hair. So many different types of snack foods have undergone the pizza transforming process but sadly only a chosen few have really made the grade in my books. The rest taste like some strange concoction of ketchup that's been left out in the sun too long and then tossed with onion and cheese powders, the whole shebang then sprinkled like pizza fairy dust over the surface of an otherwise fine potato, cracker or corn-hybrid construction. But Pringles, those innovators of the stacking potato chip that have brought so much joy to people's lives, whether at picnics, parties or to shut-ins who are using them to build replicas of famous U.S. battleships, have upped the ante in the pizza-flavoured snack department with another perfectly uniform treat. It's as if these pizza "Stix" have emerged freshly baked from the cloning factory, each a mirror image of the other like one great big happy pizza-flavoured skinny family. But how do they taste? Do they actually replicate the flavour of pizza? Not a chance. But they do have an enticing picture of a pizza on the box and the image of the Italian flag with the word "PIZZA" emblazoned on it. Not good enough? Well there is something so uniquely un-pizza about them that they become pizza just through their own force-of-will and sheer belief in themselves. Power of suggestion is all in the presentation and the mustachioed Mr. Pringles mascot could no doubt sell snow to the Inuit, pine beetles to British Columbians, wheat to Saskatchewan farmers or potatoes to Idahoans due to his suave countenance. There is a subtle onion flavour here and even a hint of cheese but there's also another flavour profile lurking deep beneath the crispy surface that speaks of something more primordial, as if from the swamp where life began if that swamp, were say, behind a strip mall on the outskirts of Sudbury. I would pair these pizza "stix" with a nice Chianti or a grape-flavoured Slushy to temper their slightly cloying finish. Each box contains 8 to-go packs and at only 70 calories per pack, they make a perfect treat to eat while working out with your Thigh Master or doorknob rope exercising machine.