05 October, 2015

Burger King's Disappointing Halloween Whopper

This is what we could have had...
Earlier this year, bits of the internet where I hang around were going crazy over a black burger (complete with black cheese) that Burger King was selling in Japan. The "going crazy" part was how people were clamoring for BK to bring that burger over here, because why whould Japan have all the fun, dammit?

Well, in "celebration" of Halloween, Burger King did bring a bastardized version of the black burger home to the US. If they had just given us a Whopper and a cheeseburger with black buns and black cheese and left it at that, everything probably would have been fine. But no, BK did a half-assed job with this and trust me, it's more trick than treat.

...but no. We get this.
Even considering the usual vast difference between what you see in a promotional photo and what you get when you peel back the wrapper, you can see the huge difference between the original black burger and the Halloween Whopper. Flat-black bun dotted with standard-colored sesame seeds. Regular yellow cheese. And A1 Sauce, which might not be so bad if they weren't so heavy-handed with it (I'll get to that in a minute.)

This is, to be quite frank, nothing more than a standard Whopper with a colored bun and some A1 sauce. And those two features - upon which the King could have built a great specialty burger - are the sandwich's failure points.

Let's start with the bun. All the advertising BK has done touts this special black bun "infused with A1 Sauce flavor." Dammit, Burger King, you should have stuck with the Japanese squid ink coloring and left it at that. But no - you needed infused flavor. Well, thanks a lot for giving us bread that tastes like a fainter version of Beggin' Strips dog treats. Yeah. Play-Doh and smoke, exactly what I want to wrap a Whopper in.

And what is it with Burger King and A1 Sauce, anyway? They "infuse" the bun with it, and then the kitchen crew adds more when they put the burger together. And when I say "more" - holy shit, it's a good thing that the Halloween Whopper is not going to break any sales records because if it did there would be a nationwide shortage of A1 Sauce since they must use half a bottle's worth on every burger.

This is why we can't have nice things.
This is far and away the sloppiest Whopper I have ever tried to eat. There is just so damned much A1 on it that when I unwrapped it, the outside of the sandwich was coated with overflowing sauce. Even after I cut it in half for easier handling, sauce just poured out of it constantly. Pick it up, it drools A1. Take a bite, more A1 squirts out the opposite side. Put it down, A1 slowly oozes like some High-Fructose Corn Syrup lava from between every layer. I felt like I should have been wearing a Tyvek hazmat suit to keep all the spatter off me.

Hey, that must be why it's a Halloween Whopper! It bleeds like an extra in a slasher film!

Thanks to all that cheap slather, there isn't much else you can actually taste in a halloween Whopper except for the sauce. That's either good or bad, I guess, depending upon your feelings about A1.

My personal recommendation is that you skip this slop and satisfy your Burger King craving with a regular Whopper. Or, if you simply must experience the black bun, ask for them to hold the A1.

(I've read that the coloring agents BK used in the American version of the black bun partially survive the trip through the human intestinal tract and will turn your turds green. I hope this is true. It will be this sandwich's only redeeming feature.)

26 June, 2015

Lobster Rolls are Back at McDonalds!

Great news for lobster lovers: For the first time in ten years, McDonald's is bringing back their summertime favorite lobster rolls to restaurants across coastal New England states (sorry, Vermont.)
They're loaded with lobster meat, topped with a big juicy claw, and wicked affordable at just $7.99.

At the First Taste event I attended at my neighborhood McDonald's, the restaurant was decorated in cool and kitschy lobsters and the staff wore lobster claw deely boppers and other deepsea-bug-related headgear. 

Take note, son: This is a real lobster roll and not some junky fast-food travesty. McDonald's starts with a nicely toasted club roll and beds it down with a blend of shredded and leaf lettuce. Then they take knuckle and flake lobster meat, dress it very lightly with mayonnaise, and top it of with a plump full claw. 

I know there is a huge controversy in the lobster roll world: Butter or Mayo?  Buttery lobster rolls are generally served hot, and mayo lobster rolls are generally served cold. A lot of people have strong opinions on which is the "right" way to make a lobster roll.

Throughout my life, I've had them prepared both ways. When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, my mother always made them with mayo. When I got out on my own and started exploring New England with my friends and later with my wife and kid, I learned about the butter variety. Today, I don't have a preference. My daughter Lynnafred grew up eating them both ways...and she does have a kind of preference: "Hot lobster rolls made with butter are for supper. Cold lobster rolls made with mayo are for lunch." Makes total sense to me.

Anyway, even if you're not usually the type to get a cold-with-mayo lobster roll, you should give it a try at McDonald's this summer.  They use the mayo sparingly, just enough to bind the meat, and never so much as to be gooey or obtrusive or to cover the flavor of the seafood. And the little bit of mayo they've got don't add that much to the calorie count, either. One of these lobster rolls comes in at just 290 calories.

Yeah, these are pretty much exactly as I remember them from ten years ago, when we used to get them at the McDonald's right of I95 in Mystic (or the one on US1 in Wells, Maine.) I'm glad they're back. We missed them.

mfw I have one of those lobster rolls.
Special thanks to McDonald's of CT and WMass for inviting me to the tasting event.

19 November, 2014

Donut French Toast: The Breakfast of Kings

Sorry about the picture quality -
it's a little out of focus.
This is one of those posts that make me glad my cardiologist doesn't know I have a blog, because in it I detail an awesome breakfast which was totally delicious as well as being pretty low on the heart-healthy scale: Donut French Toast.

Now, you can accompany your donut french toast with anything you like, but I really went for the Trifecta Of Density by siding it with mashed-potato pancakes and thick-sliced bacon. (In my defense, I cooked the pancakes using olive oil and that was the only slice of bacon I've eaten in about two months.)

Anyway, Donut French Toast is wicked simple to make. You'll need some leftover cake donuts - plain is fine, cinnamon/sugar is great, cider donuts are even better. (Don't use raised donuts.) Split the donuts in half, bagel-style, using a sharp knife. Make your usual favorite beaten egg mixture for dipping, but instead of just dipping, allow the donuts to soak a bit, cut side down, in the egg. Flip the donuts over to coat the other side, too, and then fry them, cut-side down, until browned. Carefully flip them over and fry the rounded side. Serve with your favorite sides. You can serve them with syrup if you like, but we didn't find it necessary.

Mashed-potato pancakes are similarly easy to make. Start with some leftover mashed potatoes. Season with a little extra salt and pepper. Crack an egg into them and beat the egg in, then add some baking powder and enough flour to make a rather still batter. Use a spoon or a portioning scoop to put them into a hot skillet - they'll rise as they cook, and when they're browned on one side you can flip them over and brown them on the other. 

The combo is delicious, and guaranteed to stick with you all day until supper.

18 November, 2014

I Didn't Choose The Coke Life, the Coke Life Chose Me

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola rolled out a new product: Coke Life, a decent product with a kind of stupid name. They're calling it a "reduced calorie" cola. There's no high-fructose corn syrup in it, just real by-God cane sugar and a little touch of stevia extract. That dash of stevia lets Coke maintain the sweetness level of the beverage while allowing them to cut the amount of actual sugar in the drink - and there is absolutely no trace of an aftertaste!

Quite seriously, Coca-Cola Life tastes exactly the way Coke did when I was a kid, back before HFCS wormed it's way into every goddamn food product imaginable. If you go crazy trying to find sugar-based Mexican Coke or if you hoard Kosher-for-Passover Coke when you can find it in the spring, try a bottle of Life and see how well it fits the bill.

By the way, I bought a six-pack of these cute li'l 8-ounce bottles, and GUESS WHAT THEY'RE NOT TWIST-OFF YOU'RE GONNA NEED AN OPENER, SON.

07 November, 2014

New England Clam Chowder Update Coming

I'm working on updating the comprehensive guide to canned clam chowder, which was first published in June 2011. There have been a few minor updates over the past couple of years, but since I first posted it, Campbell's has discontinued some of their products and introduced others, and there has been at least one major recipe and/or label change. Look for a heavily revised guide to come out soon.

In the meantime, if there are any canned (or plastic-pouched) New England-style clam chowders you think I should try, let me know about it in the comments here or through the Contact Me form and I'll do my best to find them. Remember that I have to have some way to get them (online ordering or from a store close to the Western Massachusetts / Northern Connecticut area.) Also please remember that I do not accept manufacturer's samples or freebies.

05 November, 2014

The Mystery of Smarties

So, Halloween has come and gone, and once again I'm left with a gigantic bowl of leftover candy. There are a lot of kids in my neighborhood and the weather was fairly decent, so I thought there'd be a good trickertreat turnout, but alas, only a dozen or so groups of kids.

Most of the leftover stuff will get piled in the breakroom at work for the ravenous jackals there, but not the Smarties. Everyone in the family poked through the leftovers, and almost universally said, "Oh, good! you didn't give away all the Smarties!" 

Smarties are billed by their manufacturer as 'America's Favorite Candy Roll," which could be true I guess, although Tootsie Roll might dispute that. Actually, I hope they do dispute it, Smarties were invented in 1949, making them 65 years old; Tootsie came around in 1896. I say we give them each a sword and let them slash it out at the neighborhood Senior Center. 

This would bring in a fortune on Pay Per View.
Anyway, I mentioned "The Mystery of Smarties." Lynnafred was the one who first pointed it out to me. She was sorting a roll of Smarties by color so she could eat the white ones - her favorites - last.  I have to admit, I do the exact same thing (could Smarties preference be genetic??) Mindful of Kellogg's fessing up that all Froot Loops cereal colors were actually the same flavor, I said that the white ones were my faves, too, but I've never been able to really tell them apart other than the fact that the white Smarties seemed to be more citrusy and "brightly" flavored than the others.

And so I made up my mind to really concentrate on the flavor of different colored Smarties, to see if I could discern something more than "the white ones are pretty damn good and I'm not too crazy about the green ones." With little piles of the different colors in front of me, I started to deliberately taste each color.

Nope. Sorry. I got a vaguely citrusy/vanilla taste from the whites and a whiff of pineapple from the yellows, and a warbly, indistinct "fruity" flavor from all the rest except orange. Orange tasted like a fainter version of the St. Joseph Children's Aspirin my mom used to give us when we were kids.

Luckily, the Smarties web site has a FAQ wherein the true flavor intentions of Smarties are revealed! According to Mr. Smartie Pants, the flavors are as follows:

White - Orange/Cream
Yellow - Pineapple
Pink - Cherry
Green - Strawberry
Purple - Grape
Orange - Orange

So...What's your favorite color Smarties?

22 October, 2014

Fishy Delights 52: Richfield Farms Ready-to-Serve Clam Chowder

I spent most of last week along the southern Maine coast, doing things like visiting lighthouses, walking the beaches, and gawking at the gorgeous New England autumn foliage (seriously, those of you who don't live here should put "Second Week Of October In New England" on your bucket list.) One of the things Maryanne and I always do on visits to Maine is hit up Marden's, a regional chain of discount/job lot/cultch stores. We generally go to the Biddeford store on US 1.

And it was here that I found a few cans of Richfield Farms Ready to Serve Savory Selections Clam Chowder, Healthy Chunky New England Style. (Look at all that text. Who designed this label, Leo Tolstoy?)

Clam chowder - even canned - is one of my favorite lunches. In addition, I try to keep track of what chowders are good and which are crap. In my Comprehensive Guide to Canned Clam Chowder, I've reviewed and rated nearly every available clam chowder I could find. Discovering Richfield Farms chowder in Marden's reminded me that the guide is still a work in progress.

So how is it?  Pretty good, I'd say.  The color and consistency is pretty much what you'd expect of a New England-style chowder, although the texture is a little on the "slippery" side. I was surprised to see visible bits of herbs in the broth - mostly, though, it seems to be finely minced parsley with enough thyme to give the chowder a vaguely aromatic aftertaste. I was also a little unsettled by these weird little white floaty bits that just would not stir into the chowder. I think that might have been some kind of starch or fat or something. The floaters persisted even after microwaving and the chowder didn't have an off taste. Despite how it looked, it definitely wasn't mold and probably wasn't a bacterial colony either (I ate it at the beginning of the week and I'm still alive.) 

There were big chunks of nice, waxy potatoes and plenty of clam bits of varying sizes. Overall flavor was pretty good - clammy and a bit herbal, but a little tinny. Like most canned chowders, it was improved with a good dose of black pepper.

I would love to give Richfield Farms a 7/10 but them floaty bits, yo. Gotta knock it down a tad to a 6+/10.

To see how this chowder stacks up against other canned chowders, you can click here to go to the Richfield entry in the Comprehensive Guide.

21 October, 2014

Vintage Cookie Recipes

Some time ago I posted about a set of old Christmas cookie cutters that made me nostalgic for my childhood. Last week I got a comment from a reader:

"Do you happen to have the cookie and glaze recipe that I believe was on the lid of the box, on the inside? If so, would you be kind enough to share?"

I had forgotten all about the recipes included with the cutters, so I dug them out of their off-season sleeping place and checked it out. There are actually four recipes printed on the underside of the lid - three cookies and one for frosting.

Sugar Cookies

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 well-beaten eggs
2 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon vanilla or almond extract
3½ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs, cream, and flavoring extract and beat well.  Sift flour and baking powder together. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Shape into mound, wrap in waxed paper and chill thoroughly. Roll on board lightly "floured" with confectioners sugar until dough is about ¼ inch thick. Dip cutter in confectioners sugar each time before cutting cookie, the place cookie on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in moderate oven (375 F) for about 8 minutes, or until delicately browned.


Ginger Snap Cookies

½ cup molasses
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons shortening
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger\

Heat molasses to boiling point; add sugar, shortening, and milk and mix well. 

Sift flour, soda, salt, and spices together; add sifted dry ingredients to the molasses mixture. Shape into mound, wrap in waxed paper and chill thoroughly. Roll on board lightly "floured" with confectioners sugar until dough is about ¼ inch thick. Dip cutter in confectioners sugar each time before cutting cookie, the place cookie on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in moderate oven (375 F) for about 8 minutes.


Brown Sugar Cookies

2 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup shortening
2 well-beaten eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream sugar and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.

Sift flour and baking powder together. Add sifted dry ingredients to the creamed sugar and shortening. Shape into mound, wrap in waxed paper and chill thoroughly. Roll on board lightly "floured" with confectioners sugar until dough is about ¼ inch thick. Dip cutter in confectioners sugar each time before cutting cookie, the place cookie on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in moderate oven (375 F) for about 8 minutes, or until delicately browned.


Frosting and Decorating

1 egg white
1 cup confectioner's sugar
Few grains of salt

Add sugar gradually to the unbeaten egg white. Beat until smooth and of a consistency to pour slightly. Divide frosting into two or three small bowls and color to pastel shades with vegetable coloring; flavor as desired.

16 October, 2014

Craft beer?

Big Y has a really loose definition of "craft beer."

(Look carefully at the top shelf.)

15 October, 2014

Special K Chocolatey Delight

Special K - the flagship of the Kellogg's "good for you" cereal brands - is now available in a heavily-sugared version which includes tiny little chocolate bars. 

For the record, even though they're almost as sweet as Cap'n Crunch, they're not all that bad - a good hearty whole grain flake with lots of crunch - but they're much more like Sugar Frosted Flakes with bits of Hershey Bar mixed in than traditional Special K. It's like Kellogg's just said, "Fuck it, just give 'em candy."