Old El Paso Frozen Beef Enchiladas

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. 

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Taste of the Union: Fall Bites

Womp womp, when was the last time I did one of these awesome round-ups? Probably around the same time Pandora thought it was appropriate to play ‘Hey There Delilah,’ which it’s doing right now. This time, it’s a little different- I have a mix of gluten-free products that I’ll give numerical ratings to, just like my big features, but…smaller. Think of it as the specialty food equivalent of GrubGrade’s First Looks or TIB’s Quick Reviews. Interspersed through this will be some recipes I’ve recently made that I’m particularly proud of.

Pinkberry Tomato Basil Greek Yogurt Parfait

Everyone was apprehensive, from the teenage girl behind me, whose eyeroll could have been seen in Texas, to the older woman in the front of the line. She shook her head wordlessly, overcome with the frivolity of my decision and whatever alternative decisions had led to this monstrosity, the one to get tomatoes and basil on my Greek yogurt. And, as I was quick to remind the dubious server, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. If I was going to eat a creamy salad after the gym, I was going to do it right.

“Are you sure you don’t want our new butter pecan?” she asked, offering me a bite-sized sample as a last-ditch effort to sway me. But I held my ground.

“No, I don’t think that will go as well with tomatoes,” and I smiled. It was a big, wolfish grin as I watched the three servers make my yogurt, each glancing anxiously at me, the mercurial masochist, as they fished tiny julienned shreds of basil out of a container and arranged plump cherry tomatoes atop the white, thick yogurt at the bottom of the cup. $3.88 and I was sitting outside at last, ready to enjoy my veggies.

Pinkberry sent me a gift card to try out some of their new selections, and I was excited to have hit the jackpot with their two savory offerings of Greek yogurt, three if you could the cucumber mint smoothie on the shake menu. This flavor features a fresh yogurt base, local to Fair Oaks Farms, standard to all the Greek yogurt selections, with grape tomato halves, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt. Ordering it is a little clunky- I wasn’t sure whether the yogurt was alongside the sweet selections, if each flavor combination had its own yogurt, or if it used one collective base. Unlike the sweet Pinkberries, this is spooned, somewhat gloppily, from a bowl near the toppings. Consequently, the texture is not as smooth or as silky as the mixed yogurts- it is thicker and melts very quickly. The top half of the yogurt was melted by the time I received it.

I wonder if the yogurt would benefit from additional flavoring, especially with this combination. The strong flavor of the yogurt, tangy and concentrated, was impossible to avoid, no matter how many tomatoes and herbs were in each spoonful. The acidity of the balsamic vinegar didn’t help, and any aged sweetness was virtually undetectable. The strongest non-dairy element was the basil, herbaceous and extremely fresh, almost citrusy against the other elements, and was, with the fresh tomatoes, the only real ‘sweet’ part of the dish. And I couldn’t help but yearn, as I looked at the pallid color of the yogurt, for the silky, sweet, milky flavors of a burrata or fresh mozzarella ice cream in lieu of the staunch Grecian cream.

I’m torn as to how I feel about this, because its innovation as an entree and a dessert is frankly, groundbreaking, setting it apart from the trendy truffle and bacon ice creams and adding elements that almost make it wholesome. My entire lunch came to a svelte 200 calories, and refreshed me after the gym and the hot afternoon. But was it any more satisfying than a real salad, or for that matter, a sweet frozen yogurt? As an ambassador for its flavors, it’s not a very good representation. It’s a technique that is already used in fine, experimental restaurants like wd~50 and Eleven Madison Park, and is clever and accessible for a larger market, but needs significant tweaking before it can sway the suspicious.

Liddabit Sweets Dorie Bar

I just joined a new fitness club in town. It’s pretty tony, with warm towel service, and private showers and changing rooms, and not a single meathead or college student in sight. That’s the most impressive part- or at least it was, until I saw the cat video. In addition to individual televisions, the gym also has a communal one with a slightly creepy, Big Brother-esque set of rotating messages like, ‘stretch before you exercise!’ ‘drink lots of water!’, and the ever-popular, ‘Planet Fitness is the enemy! Down with Planet Fitness! Glory to Supreme New York Sports Club!’ Sometimes they show videos or tips for women’s fitness, but today was something special. They showed a music video that looked more akin to something you’d see on Buzzfeed’s list of 28 Cat-Related Exercise Videos You Must See In Your Twenties- a fake advertisement slash music video for cat exercises, like the ab cruncher and paw extensions. It was mesmerizing, and absolutely nobody but me made any notice of it.

In other news, this is a candy bar I tried a while ago, back before the gluten sensitivity bullshit kicked in. This stuck out like a delicious sore thumb at the Fancy Food Show, with one of the more fascinating flavor combinations and packages that I’d seen. Liddabit Sweets has been around for a while, famous for their gourmet takes on classic candy bars. The Dorie, their newest bar, features a dark cocoa cookie base with a salted caramel ganache topping and chunks of sauteed dried apricots with black pepper, surrounded by milk chocolate. As I expected, the flavors were extremely ambitious, but not nearly as cohesive as I wanted them to be. The black pepper and interestingly, cardamom, are front and present, followed by jammy dried apricots and chocolate last. The cookies, salt, and caramel get lost in the more strong, spicy flavors.

I can’t say this is entirely surprising, but like the popcorn with brown butter, the overarching need to balance the richer, desserty flavors of chocolate and caramel with citrus and fruit elements leads to an imbalance in favor of the more acidic ingredients. It tastes like a piece of fruit cake, with the softness of the cookie acting as somewhat of a pastry. It’s much messier than I expected, which makes it difficult to share. Not bad, but lacking the distinction the ingredients lead me to believe it would have to set it apart from your average Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar.

Goldfish Macaroni and Cheese Mac and Cheese Cheesy Pizza

This forced socialization thing is hard. No, scratch that, it’s the worst. Hard is having to merge on a busy highway, or open a bag of Sun Chips quietly. This is DMV-levels of Millenial discomfort. With a lethal combination of a wheezy air conditioner, the worst internet connection ever, and no snacks, I’ve forced myself out of the house in my finest linen shirts and Birkenstocks to the comforting, suffocating embrace of a local coffeehouse. The internet thing is especially killing me. I can’t fully describe the sheer rage I feel toward DataJack, only that it combines the slow pain of walking on hot pavement with the rising force of anger I feel only when I read articles on Fox or see photos of other people eating pizza online, with the exception of the fact that I can no longer even read those articles or ogle those cheese drips, because photos load with a speed that makes dial-up look advanced.

So, now I’m here. I’m backed into a tiny corner with my back against some exposed brick and what looks to be a trendy reclaimed wood installation of mountains jutting from the wall. I have traded $4 and my dignity for an iced chai and have awkwardly negotiated the usage of an outlet so my aging HP can function. If one more person asks me to share a table, I might cry and start making a barrier with my laptop bag, French-English dictionary, and sunglasses case so I don’t have to see the raging trendiness in their eyes and the ensuing realization that the grown woman next to them is still hiccuping, twenty minutes later.

I tried to prepare myself for this in the best way that I could. Before I ventured out into public, I bought four boxes of macaroni and cheese and a package of toilet paper at Wal-Mart. As you may know, this exclusive set was nominated for a ‘Worst Combination Award’ at this year’s Retail Stars gala, and swept the category, closely tailed by ‘tampons and cat litter,’ and ‘any Eddie Murphy DVD’. Regardless, I brought home my bounty and am going to savor the ensuing reviews. Today’s antisocial special, brought to you by a dead childhood, is Goldfish Macaroni and Cheese Mac and Cheese Cheesy Pizza.

Admittedly, I was less excited about the flavor and more excited about the pasta- solid, thick, fish-shaped pieces? Sounds like orichiette for children, and I love me some tiny ears. Plus, my affinity for macaroni and cheese that tastes like snacks that taste like other snacks is still raging hard. The box title is ridiculous, the back of the box reminding me why I’m happy I don’t have an unpaid marketing internship, as it primarily details, in subtle comic form, the tragic, yet concisely gritty recounting of the murder and disembodiment of the protagonist’s peers before he, himself, is consumed. It’s like Quarantine, but for kids.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I should have known when I saw the crudely-rendered pieces, shaped like rejected Pokemon pasta from the mid-2000’s, or smiling tennis rackets, destined to crumble under the relentless pressure of my spoon. Sixteen minutes to boil, coincidentally the amount of time I need to cry into my pillow, and they were done. A pugnacious herbaceousness. A faint whiff of dairy, from the last of my imported French butter, and a single, cheesy tear down my cheek. I needed no further motivation to leave the house.

Betty Crocker Cotton Candy Cookies

I’m back! I have approximately 200 words and 2 billion citations (CMS, natch) in between me and a shiny, special undergraduate degree, and I can guarantee you those 200 words will literally be the death of me. I am going to die with my hands frozen in the position of typing the word ‘gendered’ as a result of this paper. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more that I love in God’s beautiful world than writing about feminism, food, gender ambiguity, and psychology, but a girl needs to eat and see the light of day every so often.

A recent adventure to Target yielded this gem of a product, the likes of which can be found in no other place on the internet, including the venerable Ms. Crocker’s website. The package tells me these, along with their frosting, are a Target exclusive. They’re easy to prepare- one stick of butter and an egg and they’re set. Unfortunately, I now know the psychological implications of these additions as a result of reading way too much Freudian psychology comingled with Crocker history. The egg is supposed to satisfy my need to have many, many babies. Thanks, Ernst Dichter!
The mix is classic unicorn cocaine plus sprinkles. There is the option to add frosting, if you want to undergo death by dental assistant.

I like these, but I can’t quite tell why. I think the sweet, vague resemblance to other sweet things- maple syrup, raspberry donut filling, and bubble gum, with the lemony undertones, make them enjoyable cookies, but they don’t distinguish themselves in the same way other aggressively flavored, sweet confections, like Thin Mints or cotton candy itself do. Their texture is almost perfect- grainy, obviously sugar-heavy, and incorporates the unusual addition of corn cereal which gives the cookies a layered, flaky heft, but they crumble so easily in both cooked and uncooked form that they’re difficult to eat.

They’re fun cookies, but on my current fun scale of my life, with ‘finals and uncomfortable family gatherings’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘spontaneous fauxhawks’ at the other end, these rank somewhere in the middle, lumped alongside walking to school and talking to professors. Do I enjoy these activities? I suppose. Would I willingly do them? Rarely. These cookies are just good enough to give to my neighbors- the ones who didn’t egg my front door.

Agua Enerviva Maté Lemonade

My drink preferences change about as often as my hair style, which is to say, never. Yes, as long as the sun shines down on my queercut, so shall I gladly guzzle down a gin and tonic or an Arnold Palmer. The rest can go screw. Or dump themselves down a drain, whichever diss is more injurious to inanimate beverages. Agua Enerviva, a new energy drink designed by two of the higher-ups at Vitamin Water, sent me their line of beverages and I gladly picked this one out of the bunch.

First, a disclaimer. These are technically not Vitamin Waters, but they do have the same bottle shape and design, very similar flavors, and similar nutritional content. That being said, what AE has that Vee-dubs does not is the addition of guarana, for energy and the ability to sound very, very extreme when you mention it in passing to your coworkers.

“Hey, Jess, can you cover my 1PM appointment?”
“Noperino, fellow coworker, I’m too busy siz-ipping on my guarana beverage.”
      – cordially brought to you by the department of Things that Have Never Been Said

The other four flavors of Vitamin Water didn’t compel me like this one, as I love both maté and lemonade. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as well-conceived as I wanted it to be. Maté, as a flavor, is typically strong and earthy, not unlike a good coffee or green tea, with a grassy aftertaste. With lemonade, I figured it would have a sweeter flavor, again, not unlike a gourmet riff off the Arnold Palmer.

This has the right idea, but it’s terribly bland with a monolithic sweetness. The tea flavors are condensed to a mild wheatiness at the end of each sip, the predominant flavor is that of Crystal Light with extra sugar, peevishly acidic and persistent as the commentary of one Mr. Roger Ebert, may he rest in peace. Agua Enerviva has potential, but for now it’s simply playing the role of Affectionate Parody and is missing the mark.

MiO Fit Arctic Grape and Berry Blast

Your locally-sourced badass and resident free-range bachelor is back on the prowl, ladies and germs, the prowl for delicious dainties and stupidly expensive condiments. It’s the time of year when Google’s advertising aggressively starts steering me toward camera auctions, wedding rings, discount leather apparel, and of course, drink mixes. Well, screw ’em. I don’t need more chaps or a robot’s recommendation on where to buy my condiments! I’ve found exciting things right here, you see. While MiO Fit might not be new or etsy-endorsed, it’s delicious and as always, convenient sandwiched in between a busy girl’s schedule of court, gym-ratting, and weekly trips to the spirits shoppe.

I decided to be intrepid and mix this not with water, but with dusty craft tonic water. Needless to say, Hendricks has never tasted better. MiO Fit, in both Arctic Grape and Berry Blast, has the tang and nostalgic flavor of old, discontinued Gatorade, and I say that with only the most plaintive of emphasis. Both flavors are redolent with sodium and vigor for all of your personal exertion needs and don’t taste half bad– pleasantly, they are on the other end of the MiO Energy spectrum and forgo sugar more than their counterparts. Arctic Grape is my personal favorite of the two, mainly because Berry Blast tastes like the Berry Lemonade released last May with a little more salt. 

While the MiO brand has somewhat run its course, Sassy Gay Friend now taking the role of Sassy Gay Queen and commenting on the latest David Ives fiasco between sips of Aperol, I still enjoy that they are condensing our beloved, albeit bulky drinks of yore into handheld versions for the modern day.

Davio’s Northern Italian Macaroni and Cheese Spring Rolls

Now that I’m navigating the world as an intrepid, paunchy bachelor, I’m finding that food just isn’t holding as much compel as it used to. Rather, it’s taken a backseat to the exciting minutia of single adult life, like perusing the dismal grocery selection, where the Alpo is literally next to the Campbell’s, at the local convenience store with the appraised eye of a Storage Wars veteran.

So, as I briefly alluded to with my last post, a trip to the real-life, big city grocery store brings both trials and tribulations, including the almost comically depressive existential decline of this very blog’s content. I remember when this blog used to be grassroots, man. Cell phone photos and hairbrushes all over the place. Now I’m just surrounded by women, empty space, and a thousand and one iterations of Pop Tarts that no man truly needs. The selection at Target has me yearning for the days of limited-edition Doritos that weren’t throwbacks to throwbacks debuting in 2007 but really in 1963?

The sheer overload has me grabbing shit off the shelves just so I can get home and watch Community. Last week, one of those shits happened to be these spring rolls. Congratulations, Davio’s, and may God have mercy on your fillet of sole.
These are Davio’s Macaroni and Cheese Rolls, and the only unhappiness they tangentially bring to my mother comes from the fact that I purchased them in the first place, thus further shaming the family and increasing my risk of heart disease. As for the drooling, I regret to inform you that said reaction cannot be attributed to the golden-brown crust of the rolls, but the sudden stroke you’ll incur after downing one or two of these. 180 calories per roll and not a lick of flavor to show for it. For all their plump-noodled glory, they are extremely bland and far too creamy and the noodles fade into an oblivion of flour and oil.

Also, Davio’s assumes its core demographic still lives with their parents. Is there anyone they don’t abjectly hate?

Let’s get one thing off our chests: the sauce I made to accompany this, per Davio’s tutelage, bears a disproportionate resemblance to human waste. It only adds insult to injury that I attempted to arrange the rolls as though I was presenting them to a party of six drunk twenty-somethings after a showing of “Love Actually” and a rabid desire for closure and saturated fat. However, it did help detract from the sheer richness of these rolls, like mozzarella sticks wrapped in spring rolls and carefully aggregated marketing data targeting my generation’s inability to let go of their childhoods. I’m surprised it didn’t come with a $2 off coupon of the Blu-Ray re-release of The Princess Bride.
Again, that doesn’t justify these existing as miniaturized fried human salt licks. Not in the slightest, unless you are starving or trapped in a fast-casual restaurant in a blizzard and it’s between these or your coworker, Chad.

Campbell’s Go Spicy Chorizo and Pulled Chicken Soup

At 8PM, I’m Foodette, reporting from the front lines of hazardous demographic research and intensive Millenial indulgence with the latest and sadist from Campbell’s Go line, the perfect on-the-go meal for starving hipsters and barely intrepid foodies. This quippy meatbag, one in a line of six, screamed out at me from the desperate second-to-last shelf in Target. It’s so twee I wouldn’t be surprised if it had its own Tumblr. So, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, I grabbed it for work lunch and ended up eating it when I ran out of food today. Yes, Campbell’s, I am the representative for this glamorous demographic you whimsically refer to as “unexpected.”
As I waited for the soup to heat, I enjoyed the lengthy commentary on the Campbell’s Go website, which, in addition to informing me that I was indeed ingesting a record 75% of my daily recommended intake of sodium, provided me with whimsical images of kittens and advice about getting over an ex. Spoiler alert, it includes “ziplining.” Wow, Campbell’s, you slay me, but I think I’ll stick with therapy for now.

After appeasing the microwave gods and heating the soup, I couldn’t tell if my satisfaction derived from the simple pleasure of not inducing 3rd degree burns from a boiling bag full of meat or performing a plastic lobotomy on the manic package model. In ether case, the anticipation outweighed the results. This soup is bland, man, bland with the power of a thousand OkCupid profiles whose aging users enjoy Kubrick and halfheartedly admit they’re an INTJ. Its inclusion of large chunks of chorizo sausage and distinguishable black beans and corn do little to ameliorate the fact that all have the consistency of damp paper towels. I sought, but found no pulled chicken.
“Microwave, what hell hath you wrought?”

The broth, thick and meaty, is arguably the most tolerable part of this complete breakfast, but just barely, and has a gelatinous, somewhat dirty consistency better suited to a cooking sauce than a meal base. It is unfortunately about as smoky as an electronic cigarette, but a quarter of a bottle of hot sauce accentuated its cumin-heavy base flavors. One could easily achieve the same results by spooning the last of a jar of chili into a can of Dinty Moore and letting Jesus take the wheel from there.

Can I take the heat? Campbell’s asks me. I can, but in the words of Truman, if this is the only option, I’ll just stay out of the kitchen. For all its buoyant exuberance, Campbell’s Go line tries hard but ultimately falls to the mediocre wayside in the face of discerning, flippant palates.