Luigi’s Limited Edition Birthday Cake Real Italian Ice

Happy birthday, America!

Full disclosure, I didn’t buy you anything. Later on this week I’ll fudge and pretend there’s a gift card in the mail that got lost but I can definitely send another one…(This is where I trail off) Don’t bother? That’s awfully kind of you. I won’t. Look, at least I remembered. Remember that one year that Christmas fell on Hanukkah? Awkward. And you know how much I love Hanukkah. Jesus was pretty bummed that year, but look, Hanukkah only comes eight nights a year, you know.

Well, I remembered, and better yet, I found something awesome to help you celebrate. No, it’s not that beer caddy hat you asked for. I’m not made of money, you know. It’s Luigi’s Limited Edition Birthday Cake Real Italian Ice, as opposed to the short-lived JWOWW Limited Edition Spray-On Tan Fake Italian Ice that came out last summer. Yes, it’s Luigi’s birthday, too. But look, it’s cool to celebrate multiple occasions, right? In any case, this is birthday cake-flavored Italian ice with sprinkles, so you can start freaking out like Nintendo Kid now.
The package is full-on birthday, with the kind of graphic shenanigans 90’s MS Paint designers only dreamed of. We’re talking balloons, ribbons, stripes, endless confetti, sprinkles, more sprinkles, different sprinkles, jimmies, balloons with Luigi’s smiling face on them, and games. Oh, the games. Even if you’re alone with only the whirr of surveillance cameras of your neighbor’s bathroom for company, the games on the back of the box make you feel like you’re at a real birthday party. There’s a word find, a one of these things is not like the other game, and a hidden pictures game. This seriously makes me want to go renew my subscription to Highlights.

Luigi’s has been around for 40 years. In that timeframe, I have exactly two memories of the company. The first was when a friend and I, in the third grade, would get Luigi’s cherry Italian ice every Friday, flip it over to reveal the frozen syrup crystals on the bottom, and eat it backwards. We formed our own club. And to think that later on, only one of us would be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The second was visiting my grandfather at his office, finding the endless stacks of empty cups washed out to use for crafts or paint. That man ate Luigi’s by the case and had the charm and health to show for it. So Luigi’s has been an omnipresent, if not always there product in my life, like an absentee father. And now they’ve come so far. Birthday cake Italian ice. It would prove to be either delicious or inedible.

Well, I have good news and bad news, America. The good news is that this Italian ice is pretty delicious. It has the luxuriously fatty mouthfeel and texture of full-fat ice cream, but only contains one gram of fat. It tastes like frozen cake batter- that is, the flavor is so concentrated and milky that it puts cake batter ice cream to shame. Perhaps the only strange thing about this is that the sprinkles, when frozen, take on an off, somewhat fruity flavor, but since they’re only scattered on top, it’s not a big deal. It’s also a little too gummy when melted. The flavor is great- very vanilla heavy, not overly sweet, and with a thick, custardy melt. The bad news, America, is that it turns out I am my grandfather’s granddaughter. I ate all of your birthday gift, America. But look, no hard feelings, right? Maybe when my birthday rolls around, you can create a few more jobs in the legal field? No? Too soon? Okay, America. I’m going to go order that beer caddy.

Jello Temptations Boston Creme Dessert Kits

I love pudding, but I’m not too keen on pudding cups. I don’t know. Between the creepy flavors and the overall irritation of spilling pudding down my shirt, it just doesn’t do it for me like pudding mix does. Of course, there are more pitfalls of pudding mix than pudding cups, like lumpiness, the fact that sometimes your pudding looks like swirls of dog crap, and the inevitable horror of discovering that you have turned into your own grandmother, but I’ll take it any day.Lately, Jell-O has made valiant attempts to make pudding really, really sexy for all the stay at home moms whose hot Bolivian gardeners have Tuesdays off and have created the Temptation line for that very reason. You may recognize that line from the time Swagger and I almost nearly caused a bomb scare on my campus with an expired box of pudding cups. Ah, fantastic times.This time around, I chose a safer route for exploration, in the form of Temptations Dessert Kits. Of the two flavors on the shelf, I chose Boston Creme Pie, because after all, I do have to stay true to my collegiate roots. The mix was simple to prepare, just like instant pudding but with a topping. Somehow, I wasn’t convinced that simply combining the powers of chocolate and vanilla could take the form of Boston Creme Pie, unlike the Wonder Twins, so I followed the suggestion on the box and crumbled up some graham cracker crust pieces on top. I also made a miniature pie out of the leftover pudding, because it just had to happen.

The pudding sets for a half hour after you dribble the included package of chocolate stuff on. Spoiler alert, it’s basically Magic Shell in a foil bag, the condiment that has the consistency of a melted Barbie arm. Mmmm. But it solidifies well. We didn’t have little cups and I didn’t feel like making 50 shot glasses’ worth of pudding, so I just poured it into two large goblets. It made me feel like a king.Overall, the flavor isn’t really like that of pastry cream, unless you’re talking about the stuff that grocery stores put in their cakes. It lacks the egg yolk and vanilla bean flavors that are so essential to the stuff, but it’s a tasty pudding. I’d suggest using smaller cups to get a better chocolate to pudding ratio as well as using the graham cracker crumbles on top. They really are essential to adding extra texture and flavor to the pudding. As a snack, though, I’d try it again. It was tasty and felt more satisfying to make and eat than eating a pudding cup.

Wendy’s Berry Almond Chicken Salad

Last night, Swagger, FF, and I took a jaunt in the jalopy so I could bribe them into eating some of the fast food world’s newest offerings. I ended up eating this one myself, the new Berry Almond Chicken Salad from Wendy’s along with their new Wild Berry Tea. The press release came in a scant three hours before I tried the salad, and boasted a plethora of things I love, including an exhaustive array of one specific component of the salad. Or so I thought. What with the recent mayonnaise-based chicken salad popularity in the Subway and Arby’s markets, I expected a similar coup from their female counterpart with the advertising focused on the trendy acai and fruit additions, but it turned out to look like most of the salads on the commercial market today.

All of the components of this salad were represented differently than how I’d expected them to be. With an absurd $6.99 price tag, I inwardly groaned. Not because I’d also just bought Swagger twenty five spicy chicken nuggets, but because I’d never willingly spent so much on a vegetable based salad before. From the get-go, the salad distinctly separates itself into two categories: ingredients that work well together, and ingredients that just fall short.
This being the first day of the salad’s nationwide debut, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that my local Wendy’s employees got the chicken wrong. Instead of the grilled chicken, one of the spicy chicken fillets was diced up in the salad. Oddly enough, this combination worked. With the nutty creaminess from the parmesan, the chicken’s spice was toned down and I found myself enjoying the different play of textures within each bite. The salad appears to give you your money’s worth in the parmesan department. The entire upper third of my bowl was filled with curly parmesan slices. The berries, though obviously fresh and juicy, came few and far between with each bite. The blueberries erred toward the anemic side and ended up uselessly rolling into the nether regions of the bowl, but the strawberries were the real star of the show, providing less flavor than the more powerful proteins, but a sweetness that balanced the dish out. The lettuce, some pieces clearly leftover from crappy iceberg salads and others, leafy and earthy, brought it all together with an interesting textural distinction and vaguely healthy air.
Honestly, if the salad had just stopped at chicken, cheese, berries, and a little arugula on top, I’d have been happy right there. With the addition of more textural elements, like the raspberry-acai vinaigrette and the toasted almonds, the salad took an irritating spin toward the overloaded. Both the nuts and the sauce completely disappeared behind the wakes of the more powerful flavors. The sauce left a wet, acidic aftertaste behind and the nuts acted as though they weren’t there at all. It bothered me that elements that definitely bumped the price and calorie level of the salad played no integral role in improving the flavor.
Overall, I was pleased that Wendy’s, in attempting to go beyond the traditional constraints of limp, over-dressed fast food vegetal fare, provided a good prototype for its imitators, but could not find enough to enjoy about this salad that justified its price tag and uniqueness. In a fast food market, this is an anomaly, but for home cooks, Wendy’s isn’t reinventing the wheel.

SNACKDOWN: Healthy Choice vs. Lean Cuisine in Battle Ravioli

Here at Chez Love, we are no strangers to the delicacy of the frozen meal. Many a night has been saved by the good graces of an Amy’s frozen pizza or a pint of ice cream. So when we saw these two varieties of gourmet ravioli, we knew a snackdown was in order.The two varieties wouldn’t have seemed out of place on the menu in a nice restauraunt. Lean Cuisine boasted a pumpkin ravioli with creamy sauce with walnuts, snap peas, and carrots, while Healthy Choice gave us a lobster cheese ravioli with green and yellow zucchini in a vodka sauce. Both sounded excellent and filling for a cold night.Unfortunately, we couldn’t stomach sampling more than a bite of each. While each was visually appealing- the LC’s julienned cuts of vegetables and the HC’s hearty portions, the flavors were each abominable in their own ways. Let’s take a journey into the world of Healthy Choice. The ravioli in this dish were mushy with a crumbly, powdery filling and leaking fishy fluid that completely saturated the rest of the dish with a strong canned seafood flavor. When I tasted the vegetables with sauce alone, despite seeing a firm, colorful piece of zucchini, all my mouth could think was “FISH” and resisted my every attempt to shove it in there. The sauce, which had come out of the microwave thick and rich-looking, was runny when I sat down to eat and also tasted like fish. A quick look at the ingredients showed that one of the main offenders was “pollack powder,” and after that, the only thing I could associate this was fish food and worse, the flakes that fish food comes in. No thanks.After that, I was looking forward to trying the Lean Cuisine, but Keepitcoming told me not to waste my taste buds. The crisp, colorful vegetables were drowned in the “creamy” sauce, or in our case, the salty sauce. It was an assault on my blood pressure. For some reason, both of these dishes contained an ingredient or component that made it impossible to taste anything else. The ravioli in this dish was on the other end of the spectrum- too firm and almost chewy, with an acidic, yammy flavor to its filling. This was a particular shame, as the dish itself was really pretty.

Unfortunately, we have no winner. The real winner is the pizza we picked up shortly after! Better luck next time. Expect more frozen food offerings in the future…

Foodette’s Second Birthday and Keepitcoming Love’s Birthday Pasta

It’s Foodette’s second birthday! And like most two year olds, she’s starting to feel a need to pull away from the Blogosphere teat and start eating solid, mushy foods. In commemoration of not aborting her in the first trimester, as happens to many baby blogs, Keepitcoming Love cooked a delicious and healthy vegetarian pasta dish, of which I consumed three servings.
Thanks for another great year, guys! We can only get bigger and more coherent as time goes on.

Keepitcoming Love’s Birthday Pasta
Ingredients (serves 4)
3 large tomatoes
10 pieces of asparagus
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste
1 cup of chicken stock or red wine
1 lb of your favorite pasta- we used Al Dente’s garlic linguine
1 cup of baby mozzarella boccaccini balls
1/4 cup of basil1. Chop up all of your vegetables and cut the boccaccini in halves. Reserve one of the chopped tomatoes, the basil, and the cheese in a bowl.
2. Heat a pan up and place oil and asparagus inside. Sear until brown and put in the two chopped tomatoes and liquids. Season to taste and let simmer until cooked down and saucy.
3. Boil your pasta until done and toss with sauce and remaining tomato and cheese. Eat hot or at room temperature.

Ballpark Smoked White Turkey Franks

“Ball Park franks plumped when you cooked them, but Hercules Hot Dogs did something better. They came out of the package looking like normal, udder-pink wieners, but as they got hot, an amazing transformation took place…” -Jeffery Eugenides, MiddlesexA hamburger, done right, is a gorgeous, perfect thing, but how often do you come across the perfect burger? Either your standards are low or the burger is a plane ride away and you just have to settle. And there is no way you can get a good, simple burger for 50 cents at IKEA, at least, not in this century. Hot dogs are the underdog of the backyard barbecue. I find them highly underrated for what they are- perfect in any way, whether garnished with fifty toppings or a schmear of mustard.My ‘dog of choice is Ballpark’s Smoked White Turkey Franks. With 45 calories per dog and no fat, you’d have to eat eight of these suckers to knock off a little over half of your daily calories. This opens them to a wide range of possibilities and customization to give you a meal that doesn’t fatten you up from wet sausages or pork calories, leaving your belly room for the real star of the barbecue- beer and potato salad. Salud!We polished off a package of these in about a week, customizing them with a near-obnoxious amount of toppings, from slathering them with our two favorite mustards to a New England bastardization of a Georgia Hot. Keepitcoming Love even baked special hot dog buns for the occasion. I like to cook my dogs one way- with as much open surface area as I can possibly fit and a near-black char on that exterior so that the skin is bubbling and crisp. You can never overcook a turkey dog. When hot dog buns aren’t available, we turn to hamburger buns, an awkward fit but a better ratio of dog to bread, filling the bread to the gills with avocado, hot sauce, and in tonight’s case, tomato basil mayonnaise. Any way you slice it, the lowly hot dog can be made king with a few easy customizations. Convert the nay-sayers and start frying with some of our favorite sauces and sides. Tomato Basil Mayonnaise
Ingredients (tops three dogs)
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of ketchup
2 tablespoons of chopped basil

1. Chop basil and put it in a bowl. Measure out your two sauces and mix together.
2. Refrigerate until needed and top liberally.
Mustard Potato Salad
Ingredients (serves 2)
10-12 fingerling potatoes
4 tablespoons of oil or butter
Paprika
Salt
Pepper
4 tablespoons of grainy mustard

1. Chop your potatoes and throw them in a frying pan along with oil and spices. Heat and fry until golden brown and crispy on all sides. Place in a bowl and let cool.
2. When room temperature, toss with mustard and serve immediately.

Lean Cuisine Thai Chicken Spring Rolls

Sometimes I wake up in the morning just feeling inadequate. You know, the blahs, the grumpies, a case of the Mondays, Axis I clinically diagnosed depression, wanting to punch someone in the face. Luckily, I learned one weird old tip from the internet and now I’m a new person.

Here are some of the things this weird old tip taught me to do:
Clean my yellowed, decrepit teeth by comparing them to a fake nail.
Cut down a bit of my belly every day with a straight razor
Shred the electric guitar like a pro- and never practice again!It’s pretty cool. When I’m not making $75 an hour working out of home for Google, I’m staying fit by eating new Lean Cuisine Thai Chicken Spring Rolls. Holy crap. They’re about the size of two wine corks, and about a third of the size of my recently enlarged penis, and fit perfectly in my newly refinanced home’s freezer. I can eat three of them to make a snack, and for the price of $2.59, send them to my homeless cancer-ridden Nigerian princess friend, whose parents are recently deceased, along with my monthly donation of $20,000.It’s okay, though. After she gives me my 2.4 million and Obama gives me my $10,000 stimulus check, I can buy all of the LCTCSR that I want. They’re not bad, either. With all of the non-practicing and non-exercising I do, all that activity makes me want to relax with something a little mild. With over 9,000 eclectic ingredients- white meat chicken, shredded cabbage, yellow carrots, and red curry sauce, I thought they’d be delicious and yet, comforting as a snack.Last Thursday, I made these spring rolls along with a sauce to dip them in. Bitches don’t know ’bout my dipping sauces. It would be much easier if these came with a dipping sauce to add as little or as much zest as you’d like, because the high-quality ingredients deserve a bold seasoning to go along with them. It really undermines the diversity of the components, which are clearly made to taste fresh and flavorful, when none of them are seasoned above a bland paste. It wasn’t an epic fail, but it certainly wasn’t win, either. The texture was perfect, just like a spring roll. It surprised me that three of these were only 200 calories, and Keepitcoming got scared, and said, “You’re movin’ in with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air”. I whistled for a cab and when it came near, the license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought, “Nah, forget it. Yo’ home to Bel-Air!” I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8, and I yelled to the cabby, “Yo homes, smell ya later!” Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air.

But they were decent, with a greasy, faux Asian style texture that didn’t resemble diet food at all. If you do get them, make sure to add a sauce on the side because eating them plain sort of calls you out as a herp derp. Otherwise, they’re a delicious snack to eat alongside your PUDDI PUDDI and share some with Candlejack because it’s pretty gre

Lean Pockets Pretzel Bread: Grilled Chicken Jalapeno Cheddar and Roasted Turkey and Bacon with Reduced Fat Cheese

The poor man’s Hot Pocket, the Lean Pocket, has taken a gourmet twist. Once a Dickensonian tragedy with flavors like Mexican Fiesta, the lowly sandwich has now risen to the top of the frozen food chain, imitating bistro-esque flavors like pretzel bread, croissants, and chicken cordon bleu. Now that the Pocket family is putting on the Ritz, they can look down upon the lowly citizens who consume them and laugh.The Lean Pockets website has even gotten a little sarcastic with all the low-fat entitlement they can now tout. While perusing the diverse community of flavors, the site informed me that another Pocket could be cooked while I was “wasting my time” on this website, and that the breakfast Pocket was an “actual reason to open my eyes in the morning.” Maybe if I was a shut-in, but not quite. However, the new Pretzel Bread offerings were a reason for me to drag Keepitcoming to the grocery more than the usual three times a week. I fancy myself a pretzel bread connoisseur. I’ve traveled to the deep suburbs of Windsor to locate a Blimpie for a grilled pretzel sandwich. I’ve navigated smoky taverns for a pretzel burger. So finding a commercially viable alternative to actually eating out definitely intrigued me, as did the flavors.Right off the bat, there were a few strange things about these pockets. For starters, of the two flavors, LP has decided that the turkey and bacon sandwich was too intense to warrant its own cheese flavor, simply designating it as “reduced fat cheese.” Upon further examination, it appeared to be a blend of cheddar and mozzarella, along with bacon and tomatoes. For another thing, these look like pretzels and smell like pretzels. Until you put them in the microwave. And then they undergo a series of unpleasant and questionable scent and chemical changes throughout the two minute cooking process. Enough to make me think twice about eating them and peek in the microwave to see if they’d burnt or if I’d accidentally left a wrapper in there.
Once finished, they really do resemble pretzels, but with less rock salt and a slightly more metallic scent. They are also strangely sticky. The flavor was good as I’d expected to taste far less tinniness, my favorite aspect of pretzels, and was thusly assuaged. The turkey, bacon and cheese pretzel ‘wich, or as Lean Pockets says, “the quadfecta,” was blander than I’d thought. Some elements were present in flavor, some in texture. The bacon was smoky and flavorful but texturally non-existent. The turkey has disintegrated in the microwave. And the cheese blendno matter how long I let it sit, was molten hot and salty with no distinguishable sharpness or general elements of cheese.The grilled chicken jalapeno cheddar fared better, but once again, we had this persistent Clara Peller question- where was the meat? Compared to the mushiness of this sandwich, the turkey in the last one was practically turgid. With these, cheddar was a bit of a stretch, and it was more like salty nacho cheese sauce than sharp, gooey cheddar, but with a substantial spice to it and large pieces of pepper. That sort of worked to its advantage. However, with both sandwiches, I didn’t feel like I was eating a complete meal. Had these been packaged as “Soft Stuffed Pretzel Snacks” with spicy and regular cheese with more in the box, I might have felt that the price was justified for what it was, but coming into these expecting a meal with meat, I was a little disappointed. Even after microwaving, the pretzel bread wasn’t so hot. It was a little too chewy and plain, and a good deal of the salt had melted off in the cooking process. Both cheeses ended up being so salty that the pretzel’s natural flavors were really lost in the sauces.

I hope more frozen food companies are bold enough to experiment with pretzel bread, but in the future, if they’re as pretentious as Lean Pockets has been, I expect them to deliver on their product in an honest and forthcoming way.

Quaker True Delights Wild Blueberry Muffin Instant Oatmeal

I always wing a silent prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as I dive into my first bite of foods that try to imitate other foods. It just seems a little farfetched, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster himself, to spend so much time and research money to make a food only to have it taste like something else. And then it’s like a cruel joke- to the blind.

“Wait, the fuck is this? I ordered a muffin.” LOL!

That’s actually not funny at all. But I outsource my writing these days, so blame India for my problems. Quaker True Delights Wild Blueberry Muffin Instant Oatmeal, aside from being a card-carrying member of the Obnoxiously Long Title Association, does exactly that- play a cruel joke on my mouth by failing at both the food it attempts to mimic and the actual food form it comes in. I usually trust the Quakers as far as philosophy and oatmeal go. It’s a brand that has stayed unwaveringly familiar after all these years, despite a failed advertising scheme with the ever-obscure Jordin Sparks, now relegated to informing America about products that ensure healthy bowel movements and artery declogging. Ahem. The man on the box isn’t nearly as scary as the Burger King. And it’s a healthy and easy food to make.I’m sure you already know by now that this does not taste like a muffin. Far from it. Maybe gas station muffin batter, whatever that means. But I was surprised when this fell far from my normal expectations of Quaker Oatmeal. It was pretty bad. From the get-go, the oatmeal, after being mixed with boiling water, had a creamy, slimy texture, suggesting the addition of a creamer for an experience with more indulgences than Tetzel. Hey-o! The flavor was even stranger. Despite being dotted by small, turd-like “wild blueberries,” about as “wild” as shrunken testicles, it carried the burden of tasting identical to the unpleasant combination of both lemon and coffee creamer. No joke. And the coffee creamer was actually a welcome change compared to the strangeness of the other flavors. The blueberry flavor disappeared in the strange myriad of all the other flavors and when isolated, tasted fake. Come on. Even McDonald’s makes syrup balls that actually taste like syrup.It seems as though Quaker, in a brazen foodglomerate experiment, tried too hard on the “muffin” aspect of their oatmeal and rested on their laurels with the oatmeal. Too bad, because that’s the main reason why I ate it in the first place. Otherwise I would have eaten a freaking muffin and left it at that. Quaker normally scores high with their breakfasts, but in this case, seems like too far of a reach to guarantee success on.

Nacho Chilichanga Wingers

God, I love wings.

There’s something so deliciously primal about eating them. Generally, I avoid foods that force me to pay to dismantle it, but wings are a serious exception. When Swagger comes for a visit, we almost always hit up the local wing joint and enjoy a ton of them over some terrible B movie or bad reality television.

These snacks intrigued me because they were both low fat and wing flavored, and wing shaped. However, it would not be possible to replace actual wings with these…things. They’re unfortunately not as wing-like as I would have enjoyed.Granted, I haven’t found a buffalo sauce flavored product that has really wowed me, though I did love the blue cheese glaze on Little Wings. These, unfortunately, fall into the category of imitation buffalo snacks. While they do try hard, and I admire the effort put into the little wing shapes, I just wasn’t too impressed. This particular flavor is nacho chilichanga, a flavor I’ve never actually seen translated into wings.I think the seasoning was applied far too gently. There was a slightly cheesy flavor to these, but by no means nachoesque, and a very mild chipotle and black pepper spice at the end of each bite. It was mainly salty and had little else to offer. The texture of these was stranger than I expected, and these were tiny wings! If I was served these in a restaurant, I’d send them back because they look like squab wings. I wanted them to taste like chips or Bugles, but the overall resounding mouthfeel was a lot like stale baked potato chips. It was crisp, but a little too brittle, and crumbled as soon as I crunched in.These rated a 3/5 on the company heat scale, but I didn’t find them spicy at all. Adding a little hot sauce definitely made them palatable, but I wasn’t enthused enough to eat more than one or two.