24 February, 2012

B&G Pickles

B&G used to be my favorite brand of pickles, but lately they seem to be letting quality slip. Like the jar I got at the supermarket the other day - filled with limp and soggy pale-green or even yellowy cukes, with some of them cut or crushed to fit into the jar. This is not what I expect from a good jar of pickles.  B&G needs to step up and return to the excellence they once displayed.

22 February, 2012

Grote & Weigel Is Staying Open!

Good news for hot dog lovers in Southern New England - Grote & Weigel, which had recently announced their closure, has been purchased by Chicopee Ma-based Rachael's Food Corporation (a division of J. Polep.)  After a brief hiatus, production will resume at Grote & Weigel's Bloomfield CT facility.  Rachael's has also made it known that current Grote & Weigel employees will be retained.

You can read the press release here, at the Hartford Courant's website.

When I first heard that they were closing, I scoured supermarkets in my area and managed to buy about 25 packages of Grote & Weigel Natural Casing hot dogs, stashing them in the freezer for later enjoyment.  Tonight, I'm celebrating their return by grilling up somma them dogs.

21 February, 2012

Hello Kitty Nut Cream

NUT CREAM!!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!  Nut cream!  (giggle giggle)

Also, is it just me, or does it look like Hello Kitty is flipping us off?

20 February, 2012

Review: Marie Callender's Fruit Pot Pies

In September 2010, I reviewed Banquet Fruit Pies. You can read the full review here, but the capsule version of it is: They suck.

Now, ConAgra has expanded their line of personal-sized fruit pies by bringing the concept over to their Marie Callender's brand.  Allow me to present Marie Callender's Apple, Cherry Berry, and Peach fruit pies:

Marie Callender's Pot Pies are measurably better than Banquet Pot Pies, even though they are produced by the same company.  So I figured that the same might apply to these fruit pies.  WRONG.

There are only two differences between Banquet fruit pies and Marie Callender's fruit pies: The Marie Callender version is slightly larger, and the crusts are dusted with cinnamon sugar.  Otherwise, they could be interchangeable.  The fillings are mostly blandly-flavored goop, and the fruit within is sparse and mushy. They're every bit as crappy as the cheaper Banquet version.

Seriously, these pies are shit. Avoid at all costs.

19 February, 2012

Review: Arby's Fish Sandwich

I don't like Arby's. I haven't liked them since they stopped using whole beef roasts for their sandwiches (they use some kind of strange oval-shaped roast-like thing that they make by gluing various chunks of beef together. Eww.)

Anyway, I would never even give them a thought at lunch time if it weren't for the big signs in the front windows of the local Arby's advertising two fish sandwiches for five dollars, which is a decent deal.  The signs caught Maryanne's eye as we drove by yesterday, and it was lunch time, and Maryanne said, "Let's get that fish sandwich deal from Arby's for lunch."

Arby's has been advertising that they have "the best fish sandwich in the business." I am astonished to find myself agreeing with them. Their fish sandwich is pretty awesome. It's a fairly large patty, rather oddly shaped into an irregular pentagon. There is shredded iceberg lettuce - not too much, and obligatory tartar sauce - not too much. The fish had a very pleasant crunchy coating and the whole thing was served on a soft sesame roll. And I'm certainly not going to complain about the price, since the two of us each got a sandwich for that five-dollar bill.

Props also to Arby's for their curly fries and their mozzarella sticks, two more menu items which were very good and very fairly priced.

I would probably go to Arby's for their fish sandwich again, even if it were the regular price. But it won't be at the Arby's in my hometown.

You see, the Arby's in Enfield (right off I-91's Exit 48) is usually deserted. The half-mile stretch of Elm Street in town is home to a bunch of fast-food and casual-dining restaurants: Arby's, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Denny's, Friendly's, and Dunkin Donuts are all within eyeball range of each other. McDonald's, Arby's, and Burger King are right in a row, and Arby's regularly gets its ass kicked in terms of sales. Even at the busiest lunch and dinner hours when parking lots are full and long lines of cars wind around through the drive-thrus, Arby's drive-thru is empty and its parking lot barren. I finally found out why on Friday when we stopped for the fish:  The staff doesn't seem to know what's going on.

I don't understand how I can be at a fast food place with only two other customers and still have to wait over twenty minutes for two fish sandwiches, one medium curly fries, and one small order of mozzarella sticks. The manager and his employees seemed competent and intelligent enough, and the young man taking our order at the register was efficient and enthusiastic. And yet, there we were, waiting. And waiting. With our feet sticking to the floor (kind of disgusting, and another real anomaly, since the rest of the place seemed exceptionally clean.)

So, thumbs-up for Arby's fish sandwich, and thumbs-down for Arby's the restaurant (at least the one in Enfield.)

18 February, 2012

Mellocreme Penises For Easter

Easter mellocreme candy at Big Lots. The shapes are supposed to be rabbits, Easter eggs, and carrots...except those carrots don't seem to be carrots.

Ricotta Cheese Overview

What do you look for when you buy ricotta cheese in the supermarket?  Do you go for a national brand? A smaller regional or local brand? Or do you buy the supermarket's "generic" label? A 48-ounce tub of ricotta (enough to do a large pan of lasagna) can run up to ten dollars or so for a national brand, and even having a coupon doesn't always knock the price down to the level of a store brand. So what do you do?

Personally, I look at two things when I'm shopping for ricotta cheese.  The first is the ingredient panel. There is no reason for ricotta cheese to contain anything except milk (whole or skim or a combination of both) a curdling agent such as lemon juice or vinegar, and salt. After all, if you were going to make it yourself, that's what you'd use.

After checking the ingredients, I look at the price tag. Given identical ingredients, I don't see a reason to pay a lot more for one brand over another.  Most of the time, that leads me to buy the supermarket's house brand.  Stop & Shop, for example, sells excellent ricotta much cheaper than most of the big brands.  And at ShopRite, the difference can be even more startling - Sorrento brand ricotta cheese is double the price of ShopRite's private label.

This is a typical supermarket ricotta cheese display - in this case, at ShopRite in Enfield CT. There are several varieties to choose from: Sorrento, Biazzo, ShopRite's house brand, Polly-O, and Sam Malucci & Sons (a local brand made in Hartford CT.)  Every one of these brands except one are made with the same ingredients: Milk, vinegar, and salt. The one brand that uses other ingredients? Polly-O, a product of the Kraft company. I never buy it - even when a coupon is involved - because I don't like the looks of the ingredient panel (pasteurized milk, whey, milkfat, salt, vinegar, guar gum, carrageenan, and xanthan gum.) The label says "all natural," and it's true that guar gum, carrageenan, and xanthan gum are indeed "natural" products. I just don't happen to agree with Kraft that they belong in cheese.

So...when you buy ricotta, are you brand-loyal or price-loyal?

16 February, 2012

Charmin Confuses Me

You know, when I was a kid, my mother never inspected my ass when I was done taking a dump. I'm pretty sure that none of my friends' mothers ever did it to them, either.

Years later, as parents ourselves, it never even occurred to us to do a butt inspection after our child's every bowel movement. In fact, I bet that anyone who so much as suggested it (let alone confessed to doing it) would have been mercilessly mocked.

And that's what I find so baffling about these Charmin ads emphasizing how spotless and toilet-paper free a kid's browneye region will be if only you choose Charmin for your bumwad. At whom are they aiming these commercials? Is there actually a demographic out there consisting of parents who not only insist on flawlessly-polished rumps, but force their children to submit to an inspection to prove it? And if there is, could it possibly be so large that they found it necessary to market directly to them?

Also:  Yeah, Charmin, we get it.  Bears shit in the woods.  Ha ha ha, you're killin' us with your edgy humor. Give it a break.

12 February, 2012

Retro Cheetos

Limited edition retro packaging for Cheetos.  Notice that Frito-Lay was still compelled to put Chester Cheetah on the front.

App Review: Where Is My Milk From?

Back in 2010, I wrote about a website called Where is My Milk From?  Using the lookup function on that website, a user can enter the Plant # code from just about any commercial dairy product and find out which diary it was produced at and the actual location of that dairy.  The only drawback is that you need to be at your computer to use it - fine for looking up the stuff in your refrigerator, but not as helpful when you're in the supermarket checking out the store brand yogurt and wondering who actually made the stuff.

Screenshot by
If you have an Android device, you can now do that lookup right in the supermarket as you shop, with the Where Is My Milk From? app. It's awesomely easy to use and provides you with a bunch of info.  Search on a Plant # code and you'll instantly get the dairy name and location; click for more info and the app will display the processor name, city, products they make, and even a Google map with the location.

I spend a lot of time in the supermarket reading labels. I want to know what's in the food I buy, but I also want to know where it comes from - especially when it comes to dairy foods because I try to buy New England-sourced dairy products whenever I can. It's also useful to find out where generic products are from. Recently, for example, ShopRite was running a sale on their own house brand of Greek-style yogurt. I was able to run the code through the app right there at the dairy case and find out that the yogurt was made by HP Hood at a facility in upstate NY. That was good news to me, because Hood is based in New England - in Lynnwood, MA - and has local processors in neighboring Agawam MA and Suffield CT. And just as importantly, they're a processor that I and my family have trusted for years.

The Where Is My Milk From app costs 99 cents from the Android App Marketplace, and I think it's well worth it. I found it almost by accident - I was in the store looking at a container of sour cream, wishing that I was at my computer so I could look up the code number on the tub, when it suddenly occurred to me that the website owners might have turned it into an app. When I checked...there it was! I'm happy I have it installed.

07 February, 2012

Hormel Bacon & Pork Sausage

When I found these Hormel Bacon & Pork Sausages at Price/Rite for 99 cents, I had to try them out.  I could tell from the picture on the box that they probably wouldn't be very good - casingless sausage generally is pretty nasty stuff - but after all, I was only gambling a buck.

Since my expectations were pretty low, I wasn't too disappointed when I opened the box and found a block of bulk sausage meat that had been die cut to form "links."  Except they're not links, Hormel. If they're not packed in casing and linked together, they're not links.  Believe it or not, the picture here actually makes the sausage look better than it did in real life. They were lumpy and loosely formed, and the surface was white with congealed fat.

They were some ugly-looking meat sticks after frying. Several of them broke apart as they cooked because the meat was packed too loosely to hold together. And, of course, there was all that fat.

The flavor was...unique. Vaguely porky, a faint whiff of smokiness from the bacon, and an overwhelmingly cloying flavor of fake maple flavoring. I took a bite of one and that was all I could take. Luckily, the dogs thought the sausage was awesome and that 99-cent box of cheap meat gave me a day's worth of treats for Zim and Iris.

There is nothing worse than fake maple flavoring. I hate the way it tastes, but I hate the way it smells even more. It reeks like boiled-over automotive antifreeze, and it lingers forever. The stink of it hung in the house for days. Fortunately, feeding the "links" to the dogs made them fart, which covered the smell. 

06 February, 2012

Out Of The Can: Bacon Grill Luncheon Loaf

Bacon Grill Luncheon Loaf is a dollar-store SPAM knockoff that is perhaps the worst-tasting homogeneous tinned meat product that I have ever tasted. The photo doesn't really do it justice, because it fails to show its true, vividly pink color/ Popped out of the can as shown, it looks very much like it was made of melted pink crayon topped with transparent Jell-O.

Sliced and fried, it developed a nicely browned crust which is probably the best thing I'm going to say about it. The texture was spongy and unpleasant, and it tasted like the cheapest, most filler-laden bologna you can imagine.

Really horrible. I might eat it again if I were starving. No, literally starving, not just "wicked hungry" starving.

05 February, 2012

Toaster Pastry Heaven

Recently spotted at Big Lots: huge, 48-count boxes of Pop-Tarts!  Each of these wastebasket-sized packages contain six times the standard number of sugary, crusty frosted delights - 24 each of frosted strawberry and nutritionally-defunct Brown Sugar Cinnamon.  It's POP-TART HEAVEN!

For a long time, Brown Sugar Cinnamon was my favorite variety of Pop-Tart.  While it's true that no Pop-Tart is exactly the epitome of healthy eating, Brown Sugar Cinnamon is almost the perfect storm of empty calories. There isn't even the pretense of fruit there to make Mom feel less guilty about abandoning breakfast to The Big K. It's kind of like the Pop-Tart development team said, "You know what? The hell with it! Skip the fruit jam and let's just fill some of 'em up with sugar! That's what the little bastards really want anyway. And put frosting on it, too."

They were right. When I was a little bastard, I LOVED Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts, and my cruel heartless mother would hardly ever buy them. (I think she said something like, "You're not getting that shit for breakfast.")

03 February, 2012

Hershey's Air Delight Chocolate

If I wanted to write a three-word review of Hershey's new Air Delight chocolate, I would just type "Feh. Skip it." But as it turns out, I actually have something to say about this stuff, so here goes.

1. It's a shitty trick designed to get consumers to buy air at chocolate prices. Hershey could have done this years ago if they really wanted to - Nestle has been selling the Aero Bar in Europe for years - but with the lousy economy putting the squeeze on profits, I guess a bigger-looking bar that actually contains less chocolate was irresistible to the cocoa bean counters.

2. The texture is weird. Air Delight chocolate shatters into a grainy lattice when it is bitten and chewed (although I admit it soon melts down to regular Hershey chocolate consistency.  It's just that initial chomp that kinda skeeves me out.)

3.  When all is said and done, it's still made of Hershey chocolate. When I was a kid and the only kind of chocolate I'd ever tasted came from Hershey, I liked it well enough. But since then, I've tasted chocolate made all over the world, and there is really no comparison between a Hershey bar and chocolate made in Germany, Belgium, Italy, or Switzerland. Not only does the higher cocoa butter content in good chocolate make it melt in the mouth more smoothly than Hershey, but Hershey has a decidedly "sour" back taste that is almost cheesy.  Try a side-by-side comparison with a Hershey bar and some inexpensive German-made chocolate from ALDI. You'll be amazed.