The internet bought me dinner. Thanks, internet. It’s been a long few days. I’ve discovered that I’m like a hydrophobic substance- terrified of bonding, and that I have a lot of work to do before I’m actually an attorney. Did you know that law school is not simply a sixteen-minute montage of uplifting KC & The Sunshine Gang songs and pretty power suits that fit perfectly in the bust? It gives an entirely new definition to the term ‘qualified privilege,’ which is funny to maybe three people here. I feel oddly content, though, despite that I have impending exams and papers deciding the fates of imaginary clients. It feels good to accomplish things in the real world- cooking being the sole omission of said accomplishments.
This week on Chopped: Pre-Spring Break Edition, or as we call it behind the scenes, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, What am I supposed to do with all of this hummus?” we encounter a plethora of ingredients our intrepid chef has never reached for before, much less made the effort to consume, including, but not limited to granola-infused peanut butter, a sack of clementines atop a bookshelf that came off as clever and hip, but quickly rotted, a haircut inspired by Marlon Brando and a Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio, and aging Lean Cuisine Salad Additions.
Spoiler alert, also, real talk: do I look like the type to eat salads? Absolutely none of the current stereotypes I cuddle up to would eat a salad, I know this because I’ve tried and failed. So, Lean Cuisine, that, and my apathy about buying vegetables in quantities not befitting a single, dour human being compels me to try your new kits with spaghetti. Store-brand spaghetti, that chicken is too pallid for the fresh stuff. That, and the fact that it took about 15 minutes before I realized that filling my Firefox tabs with recipes and looking at them would not suffice my actual bodily hunger. Tant pis.
I’m not including a recipe because it’s a little reprehensible, but suffice to say, it includes peanut butter, a ginger-sesame dressing out of a salad kit, copious amounts of hot sauce, and closed doors. However, I also realize none of you read this blog for moral culpability, so I’m inclined to also tell you solely because it doesn’t entirely matter. This salad kit is delicious when it isn’t used for salad. My favorite part? The pineapple and yellow carrot pieces. While I may not have prepared this correctly- I don’t own a microwave and don’t care to go to the convenience store to ape theirs five blocks away, so I thawed the chicken and veggies instead for a few hours, that may have been what improved them. Sticking them in the microwave, according to conspiracy theorists and eco-minimalists, leeches all of the flavor out of them and renders them mushy and unpalatable. Here, they retained a little snap and remained firm and bright. Paired with chow mein noodles tossed in sriracha (noodle-on-noodle action) it was a great dinner, and two more great lunches.
Also, holy chicken, Batman. Either corporations are getting hella deft at mimicking food (a quick glance to the ingredients reveals this to be slightly true, modified tapioca starch) or they’re just using better chicken. This tastes, feels, and for all intensive purposes, is real and quite tasty. And better than buying and/or thawing large chicken breasts. So, Lean Cuisine, my lassitude is your gain. Four for you, Glen Coco.
People love posts about grocery runs to Trader Joe’s. They like to read about peoples’ foreign shopping sprees. Hell, they even tolerate watching asinine haul videos that look as if they were scripted by a bored Uwe Boll during a scene phase. So, in that vein, I thought it would be fun to showcase food from one of the most amazing discount grocery stores the world has ever seen. No pressure, Picard, no pressure. Yes, Picard, no relation to the Jean-Luc franchise, is a store that specializes in one thing and one thing only: frozen food. And they have freaking everything. Frozen cubes of ready-made sauces. Defrostable cakes. Frozen toothpaste. Whole roast chickens. Premade galettes that are definitely better than mine.
And the crazy thing is that all of it is delicious. Miss Love and I went on a grocery run to Picard when we arrived to stock up on staples like meat and appetizers, and we were impressed with almost everything we tried. One of our first meals when she arrived was simple- tikka masala-seasoned chicken and a mashed potato and artichoke heart dish. It was almost too easy- baking the chicken and mashing the incredibly awesome individual potato canelles in a saucepan, whose poppable shape definitely conjured up thoughts of deep-frying. The result? One of the heartiest and tastiest meals we ate, and it took basically no preparation at all. It ended up costing us around 8 Euro for four servings, so it was economical as well as delicious.
We also needed a snack beforehand, so we noshed on these tasty little “steamer-ready!” shu mai with pork and shrimp. We didn’t have a steamer, which I imagine would have been the most optimal form of preparation, nor did we have the hindsight of putting them in the freezer for 24 hours (Picard has a funny habit of giving you defrosting instructions 24 to 48 hours in advance) so we microwaved them with a wet paper towel on top, and they were tasty and tender, especially with the zesty sauce of indeterminate origin.
Because it was Miss Love’s first night cooking at home with me again, we decided to have two desserts. Our first was very, very special, not something you’d expect to see at a grocery store. A frozen pomme d’amour, the French take on the classic candy apple treat, but instead of an apple center, it featured a green apple mousse surrounding an apple gelee, cheesecake center, and speculoos base. All the flavors came together remarkably well, and the visual presentation was breathtaking, especially with the little vanilla pod stem!
We also shared some ice cream that looked delicious and promising- caramel bergamot with pieces of caramel and shortbread. Unfortunately, the bergamot flavor dulled after the first few bites, leaving only sticky sweet caramel, with little salt to balance out all the sugar. The shortbread pieces were also nonexistent.
This is a pizza that we ate the next day for lunch. The ingredient list described it as having 48.9% dough and 51.1% toppings, and I believe that to a T. Seriously, this thing was packed with fresh, tasty vegetable and meat toppings, as well as balls of fresh mozzarella. And speck! Crispy, salty speck ham. The only issue was that it was unwieldy in size- not small enough for one person to eat in one sitting, but not easy for two people to share. If I made one of these again, I might serve it with a salad or something on the side.
Another tasty appetizer, translucent buns stuffed with whole shrimp and a careful dot of green onion.
This technically wasn’t from Picard, it was from the Monoprix down the street, but we really enjoyed it. This is a flammekuche, a traditional Alsatian ham and onion tart.
These salmon tartare cylinders came in packaging almost as difficult to unwrap as a CD package. Luckily, the results were worth the effort, especially when eaten in this bitter orange jam and Dijon mustard salmon sandwich with duck bacon.
Finally, for our last meal, we enjoyed our favorite tikka chicken again, atop a pile of mixed vegetable quinoa. I normally am not partial to quinoa, but this was a fantastic exception. Three minutes in the microwave and it was hot, fluffy, and stuffed with tender veggies. Leaps and bounds above Green Giant! It was delightful and so easy. Picard is definitely somewhere that I’ll go again, and I can’t wait to see how I can use their other ingredients and dishes.
Because I’ve focused mainly on specialty food and restaurant reviews, I’m always getting asshatted comments on my fast food posts that start with “snob” and end with “mother’s basement.” The truth is, they’re very different ends of the same tasty spectrum. And I can honestly say that I enjoy them both equally. The middle end of that spectrum is a dead zone, though. It’s the abandoned frozen foods and mediocre snacks that I’m also compelled to write about, though with less than satisfactory results.
Miss Love and I are not teenagers, nor are we men, so it’s unlikely for us to keep around appetizer and snack foods to graze on throughout the day. When I’m at my parents’ place, though, there’s always something fun around to try that we wouldn’t normally purchase back home. We found these mini chicken tacos from Trader Joe’s and thought they’d be tasty enough.
For all the ease of Trader Joe’s products, these are atypically annoying and labor-intensive to make. There are three different ways to make these, though the one with the coveted “best results” award is the deep-fry method. Four tacos is 190 calories. The ingredient list is roughly the length of a Tolstoy novel and the tacos were soft and salty-smelling out of the box. Kind of a far cry from my shredded chicken and tomatillo salsa tacos, but whatevs. The instructions said to fry these at 350 degrees for 1-2 minutes, but after 3 minutes, the tortillas were still soft and squishy. These finished cooking after 8 minutes. I flipped them once and drained them.
These are awkward with a side of awkward turtle to prepare. Sr. Jose recommends splitting these open and cramming them with toppings, which strikes me as counterproductive. They’re also molten hot and spewing oil all over the place after being drained in an oak’s worth of paper towels. Why bother going through the process of deep-frying what basically amounts to tortilla chips and chicken paste if you’re just going to put condiments all over it? It feels like a waste of calories and time. Unfortunately, the technique makes sense. These are pretty flavorless. Predominantly oil and corn, with a half teaspoon of uniformly textured, salty and cumin-heavy filling. No tomatillo tang. No cheesy goo. Just salt and oil.
So I split them and put in some sour cream and habanero gold jelly, one of my absolute favorite condiments. It’s a habanero and apricot spread that I love to use with savory foods. And lo and behold, the tacos tasted like sour cream and pepper jelly. Surprise surprise. If you’re looking for a greasy vehicle for condiments and want to feel like you’re doing more than just slapping nachos in the microwave, maybe these are right for you. As for me, I can eat better things with more flavor. These just missed the mark.
I like my food to be interactive. Of course, there’s only so many ways you can jazz up lift food, insert in mouth, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to make it more exciting. I blame it on my parents, whose authentic airline-related commentary while flying the fork plane into my mouth as an infant would have made any TSA agent proud. So these days, where a spoon would suffice, I’ll stick a straw in. I like arranging plates to have as many condiments and dips as there are items on the plate itself, and a dinner just isn’t a dinner unless it has at least one experimental cocktail.
DiGiorno sent over some of their pizzas last week, in a bizarrely paradoxical “is it delivery or is it DiGiorno” situation. In this case, it was both, which seems to defy the laws of time and space, but whatever. Funny story: sometimes the press kits companies send over can be very convincing. In this case, I got a text from Miss Love while on my way home from work. “digiorno sent 1 pizza just put in freezer.” Curious to hear more, I called her, and we both expressed our confusion at having received one pizza in what she said was such a large box.
I came home later and found this in the freezer, with these inside.
Yup, they made their press kit so convincing that it fooled my poor girlfriend. Shit is crazy like a Foxwoods, I tell you. Luckily, thumbdrives can take a licking, so despite the fact that these were frozen, they turned out just fine. I also need to point out that this is one of the most impressive press kits I’ve recently received. They made a thumbdrive that’s meant to resemble a Dipping Strip. The operative word here is “meant,” as it errs more toward the side of skin disease demonstrative display (“Pepperonitis Simplica”) but it’s still freaking awesome.
I ran to the store and grabbed the Three Meat pizza for my first test. Maybe I’m just used to the slender, compostable Amy’s boxes we usually get, but this pizza was hefty. I swear I saw my triceps cry when I lifted it out of the freezer case. The Three Meat Pizza is topped with pepperoni, sausage, and beef, and comes with two tubes of garlic and marinara dipping sauce. I can understand the former, which seeks to deliver a certain pizza restaurant’s certain magical sauce to a certain masses, the likes of which rhymes with “Ploppa Han,” but the latter baffles me ever so slightly. I’ve never known anyone to add extra sauce to a pizza.
I’ve always liked DiGiorno’s pizzas, and this one was no exception. While I find the crust a little too thick and dense, the flavor is tasty without being oversalted and the toppings are generous. The execution of the dipping strips is a little unwieldy, though. The cheese extends and separates in a net-like form, leaving small pieces of beef and sausage in its wake like the children of divorced parents. As the cheese breaks off, they ultimately fall by the wayside until you plop them back on the pizza. The toppings are fairly nondescript- the pepperoni is gamey and fatty, distinctly reminiscent of packaged Hormel sausage or the cold slices you’d get in a Lunchable, and the sausage and beef are virtually indistinguishable. But still, meat toppings FTW. The real fun is in the dipping.
Both sauces feature easy-to-tear pouches and a slightly greasy exterior as well as the heady implications of explosion should you microwave them. Once again, I’m reminded of Lunchables. This pizza feels more and more like the adult version of the deep-dish pizza creator you were jealous about in the 4th grade. You know, the one with cold cheese and an animal-based crust that you’d have given a kidney for. Now it comes in 1 lb increments and has garlic sauce. You’re all grown up, baby. The marinara sauce was surprisingly, my favorite condiment, likely because it served as a zesty lubricant for the craggy pizza strips. The garlic sauce was congealed with oil and it had a thin, watery texture. It had a salty, non-garlicky texture and I ended up throwing it out.
This is a pretty successful frozen pizza, and it’s definitely a fun, easy way to portion out food. Many an argument has broken out chez nous over the last slice of pizza, and this way you can divide up your strips as evenly as we divided up land back in the 1800’s. While I’d love to see a thinner crust and some more diverse toppings and dips, it’s delicious, moderately nutritious, and better than the DIY version we had as kids.
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This was always the consolation prize of babysitting night- when your parents didn’t trust the sitter to go out and not buy drugs with the pizza money, Kid Cuisine was on the menu. And if they really hated the baby sitter, they left her one, too. When I was little, Kid Cuisine came in more varieties than you could count on all of your hands and they always seemed to be testing some child-formulated version of lazy adult products. Salisbury steak, taquitos, and a knock-off of Ellios’s whizzed through the freezer.
I distinctly remember having this once, not because my parents never went out, but because they figured out very quickly that children could also be sustained by leftover duck confit, raisins, and salt-free almonds when left to their own devices. “Canape night! My favorite!” A phrase we never uttered. Today I took one for the team and sampled the least unappealing version of KC that I could find, fun shaped chicken breast nuggets. Though, not gonna lie, I would have loved to find miniature corn dogs to flick at my cats.
The presentation and preparation is overly complex and strange. I gauged myself at being around the stumbling motor capability of a small, dull child as I was hung over from last night’s celebration of Thursday. To read multiple paragraphs about taking out chicken nuggets and putting them back in, gently stirring corn and macaroni and cheese, and not microwaving gummy bugs felt beyond my skill set so I just nuked the savories and kept out the sweets. The gummies were housed in a package that kept them dry but absorbed all the savory flavors, adding insult to injury by not providing them their own separate compartment to rest in prior to consumption. Those suckers had to sit next to the nuggets.
The meal is perfect for children as it is completely devoid of texture, seasoning, and any remote resemblance to the food it is inspired by. Change its color or put some foam on it and it’s practically a Wylie Dufresne kid’s menu. I mean, just look at that macaroni. It has some serious issues brewing beneath its taut, taupe skin. I want to sit it down and refer it to a good psychoanalyst, maybe buy it a drink and just sit back and listen. Kid Cuisine is no place for authentic Italian elbow noodles, I’m sure. It had bigger dreams at one point, but now…just look at it. The nuggets are placidly bouncy and squishy. I’m sure that was intentional but it’s doubly disturbing as they are shaped like bugs.
If you really have to eat this, you could look at it as a more homogenized, muted version of the KFC famous bowl. Like said bowl, it also tastes like a healthy dousing of arrhythmia-topped dairy with a few vaguely crispy nuggets thrown in for protein. Also this dinner is basically a pussy magnet if you have two cats and they can smell chicken from three miles away like ours can. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s just not as condiment and flavor laden as I typically like my food to be. I wish Kid Cuisine had gone the duck confit route and incorporated just a little more oomph to these. Kids should know what coriander tastes like by their sixth birthday.
Well, readers, it’s shaping up to be a pretty crappy day and it’s barely past noon over here. My phone, which I’ve had for the last three years, stopped working today. It registers as on, but the screen is blank and I can’t read texts or receive calls. So it’s basically a light-up brick. I feel overworked, I’m stressed looking for a summer job, I’m the goddamn Batman, and I have an enormous baking project to undertake tonight. So I’m pretty peeved right now.
Luckily, I remembered I had these fries in the freezer to review today, which brightened up my day significantly. These fries are getting more dreamy eyes and shooped tumblr posts than Titantic, One Direction, and puppies with broken legs combined. It fuses together 17 year old girls’ love for their childhood, which they perceived as idyllic and uncomplicated in retrospect, and their projected appreciation of the simple things in life. No joke, I once saw a Facebook status circulate around a specifically dumb group of pre-deletion friends that read something like, “~♥♥♥ i would rather have a boy make me dino nuggets n smiley frys then take me out for a fancy steak dinner ♥♥♥~ REPOST IF U LOVED UR CHILDHOOD!!! Or something like that. And yes, the “then” was spelled like that and nobody noticed that the re-poster made herself out to be an enormous hambeast.
My point is, people, specifically people my age, love reliving their elementary school glory days for no other reason than to relate to people who, like them, were also children at the same time they were. It’s a little pathetic. Likewise, Disney sing-a-longs, Lion King marathons, and Harry Potter fanart also falls into this category of the 90’s Nostalgia Generation. Regardless, everyone can still agree that it’s immensely satisfying to bite an anonymous face apart piece by piece.
I’ve seen grown college students, legally defined as adults by the state of Massachusetts, push each other and grab at these like toddlers lacking fine motor skills. Why? Because they’re absolutely delicious. They’re the best of french fries and tater tots, with the increased crispy surface area of the former and the thick, pasty sustenance of the latter. Salt for all. Even better when you dip them into ketchup because then you can justify eating them due to their extended cranial injuries. Even better than feeling like God when you’re able to injure them at whim and then consume them before anyone notices are the deformed ones.
You’re special in your own way. And possibly incapable of frowning. Smiley fries, you are the best. Your starchy, whipped texture makes cannibalism almost seem pure.
Ah, legal loopholes. That simple twist of the tongue that leads to so many Homer Simpson “d’oh!” moments during checkout at the grocery store. Personal favorites include chocolate flavored, Chick’n, and as we’ve seen with the Taco Bell Chicken Bacon Ranch flatbread, “baconranch” the ex dolo malo of the food world, hated by all and loved by the toothless. When I brought this pizza home, I slapped my forehead in disgust, worrying that when I opened the box, I’d see a smattering of bacon-flavored ranch sauce covered with anemic tomatoes and little else. I sometimes feel like the abused child of the CPK industry. I’ve been burnt too many times.
This time was different, though. I can’t say that CPK will stay this good, but this time, they were pretty decent. Much like my inherent weakness for small succulent plants, roadside tacos, and tight pants, I feel the compulsive need to purchase every single new pizza they’ve put out, despite their failure time and time again. Then again, it could be because they keep slapping “limited edition” on all their freaking pizzas. Not this time, Roasted 15 Veggie. Not this time.
I liked this pizza. It seemed as though with every misconception I had about this came a rebuttal of the finest form that blew my argument right out of the water. There will be no bacon! Oh, wait, actually, there’s a metric asston (not to be confused with the hogshead) of bacon and it’s all ground up and crispy and delicious. Oh. Okay, well, the tomatoes will suck? Mmm, wrong again, they’re actually pretty juicy, some are yellow, and they’re cut up in small enough pieces to get a bunch in every bite.
This was the point in the consumption where I furrowed my brow. Might I have actually gone out and purchased a pizza from a store and tried to trick myself using magical thinking to pretend this was from CPK? But the box was in the trash. It’s not like this was a perfect, magical pizza. The crust was, as always damningly thin and crispy, but worked better with this combination of flavors than it had in the past. It created a crisped open-faced panini effect on the pie and lent itself to sandwiching quite well. The main drawback with this was that it was incredibly salty, no doubt aided in part by the gluey ranch sauce adhering its components together. Thankfully, the chicken wasn’t seasoned and was strangely quiet throughout the entire lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever had a prepackaged food item, pizza or otherwise, where the amount of bacon outweighed the amount of other proteins. It was strange. And yet, so epic.
But damn it, CPK, your website still looks like a Geocities reject. Why is that? Y U no change that? And so upsettingly sparse in places. I want wine recommendations for my chicken bacon ranchathon, please.
Holy crab. As scripted as it may seem, that was my first thought after biting into one of these crab cakes. I wonder if the rec center will have ice skating this year. My second thought. See, I’m just like you. Nothing to it. I hope I never move to Maryland and then move away from it because then I’ll have to give up these crab cakes. And here we are once more. These crab cakes and red crab soup, sent from Kent Island Crab Cakes, are the perfect example as to why if you decide to try something new that you’re not a fan of, you should give the best of its kind a fighting chance. These will make fish nerds rejoice and fish haters give up the fight.
It is genuinely detrimental to shop while you’re hungry. In our case, it could mean the difference between wandering in the frozen food section to grab an extra pizza to hoarding artisanal, free-range, cruelty-free chocolate bars simply because of our gay homing mechanism that insists we shop at the organic local co-op. Dating a girl is hard. But seriously, shopping when you’re hungry is a terrible, terrible thing.
And like an orphaned puppy or a teenage runaway sitting sullenly in the bed of our pickup (there is no pickup) that’s kind of how we ended up with this “naanwich.” Like breakfast in bed and the musical stylings of Yes, it seems immaculate in theory yet proves to be disastrous in practice. Indian food? In my sandwich? According to Sukhi’s, it’s more common than you think. It seemed like one of those good-bad ideas. Take the messiest food you could find (was a spaghetti and meatball sandwich already taken? How about a milkshake sandwich for dessert?) and slap it in between bread. Luckily, chicken tikka masala is one of my favorite foods, and sandwichifying it only makes it more appealing to my childlike palate.
Not only is this Oprah recommended, it’s microwavable. Hot damn, hello, 21st century. And may the grand reign of Oprah rest in peace. $3 and 90 seconds later, which, for the record, took me longer to calculate to microwave than I’m willing to admit, and we had our snack. According to the nutritional facts, this is a mere 310 calories, bread included, with only 6 grams of fat. Eating at an Indian restaurant, a typical serving of tikka with the naan, hefts a total of 836 calories and 42.5 grams of fat. And that’s if you opt out of having it with rice. While I’m a little more willing to eat that kind of food in the winter when I can hide it under bulky jackets, in the summer it’s less than desirable. Being able to satisfy that craving for creamy tikka was a definite advantage.
However, this didn’t exactly deliver the type of comfort and satiation I desired. Keepitcoming Love and I split the sandwich as a snack. When it came out of the microwave, the pillowy-looking naan had dehydrated and ended up being soft and crumbly in the middle, with a fantastic herbed flavor, but chewy and tough on the edges. The ingredients were clearly top of the line and authentic, with a bold cilantro flavor permeating the filling, which was mixed with long strips of sweet onion and a thick, robust sauce. Personally, I felt that it didn’t have the creaminess essential to a tikka masala. There was plenty of chicken to speak of, though it cooked unevenly and left us with a few unpleasant cold spots in each piece. While the innovation in this is mouth-watering over pedestrian PB&J and the typical turkey and cheese, there are a few too many flaws for me to buy this again. Try as I might, I just couldn’t eat this without thinking, with a pang of guilt, that for a mere buck and a half more I could have gotten a loaded Roast Beef Smitty with homemade boursin cheese at State Street Deli.