Dunkin’ Donuts Eggnog Latté

Chicken and waffles? Passé. Chicken and donuts? That’s more like it. Add a side of redeye gravy and you’re good to go. I entered donut-fried chicken into a Dunkin’ Donuts contest (of my own, and Dillinger’s volition) today and decided to pick up this hot-off-the-press Eggnog Latté while I was at it. It took twenty minutes to make, not because the talented baristas hand-beat the yolks and ground fresh nutmeg into steeped Arabica coffee beans, but because the cashier was lost or dead in the back freezer. After she cryogenically unfroze and took my money, I had a fresh latté in my hands.DSC_6555 Continue reading “Dunkin’ Donuts Eggnog Latté”

Paragon at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT (II)

I rarely do repeat visits to restaurants- not for lack of desire, but ultimately, there are just so many new places to go that I rarely think of returning to places that aren’t within walking distance of my apartment, or are actually in my apartment. But I often wish there was enough time for me to go back to some of them– I wonder how they’ve developed and what their menus are now like. I watch over them with the wistful distance of an ex-lover on Facebook.DSC_6429 Continue reading “Paragon at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT (II)”

Red Lantern at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT

I’m not good at date nights. My small, mammalian brain tends to associate them with work nights, as most of my face-stuffing tends to be ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Sometimes, though, I pull it off effortlessly, and manage to convince the Bedfellow that I am taking her on a lavish junket, away from the humdrum of suburban Northampton, into the exotic and posh world of the elite. This, unfortunately, was not one of those nights.
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Continue reading “Red Lantern at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT”

Trader Jacques’ Beurre Meuniere Popcorn

I miss Paris, but lately, I’ve been feeling pretty lucky to have not come down with gluten issues while there. I found this gem at Trader Joe’s while elbowing West Hartfordites for the last litre of coconut water and bitching about the price of Udi’s. Popcorn isn’t my favorite snack, but I do love the flavors it can come in. What is it about popcorn that makes manufacturers so adventurous? Frito-Lay, where’s my brown butter and lemon potato chips? My pumpkin seed and caramel pretzels? This popcorn made me squeal, then go through the seven stages of grief at a distinctly rapid pace as I checked for the gluten-free label. Luckily, it’s safe to eat, so I grabbed a bag and ran home.

On a whole, I’m more inclined to buy bagged popcorn than I am to make it myself. It’s less greasy, has better toppings, and there are none of those terrifying unpopped kernels. Trader Joe’s makes a reliably good popcorn- super creamy, with a crispy, fresh crunch. The idea of brown butter powder intrigued me, and when combined with lemon, thyme, and other herbs, it sounded pretty magical. The popcorn is plentiful, very francophilian, but is somewhat of a kvetch-22. It has lots of tasty flavor powder, but that powder does make it much messier.

The brown butter flavor is nuanced- the lemon is surprisingly strong and fresh, followed closely by the thyme. Both give a bit of a sweet, epicurean edge to such a typically savory snack. Unfortunately, the brown butter isn’t as noticeable as one might expect or desire. Crunched quickly, the lemon is the primary discernible flavor, leaving the butter behind in a gently nutty, toasted finish. This ends up tasting somewhat redundant as popcorn already has that flavor. I’d have liked to have a better balance of sour and savory, perhaps with some sea salt flakes or less lemon. Tasty, but not as distinct as I’d anticipated. 

Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Mayonnaise (Original and Chipotle)

I told myself I’d be able to gently coax Sir Kensington’s new creamy, white sauce, known in some circles and areas of the Midwest as ‘mayonnaise,’ without any awful, bodily puns, but it appears I’ve blown my humor wad a little early. Luckily, I have four jars of this stuff to make up for it. Yes, your favorite gentlemanly purveyor of condiments has filled the condiment coffer (I assume you all have a condiment coffer) once again with their release of two mayonnaise flavors, Original and Chipotle. 

The new mayonnaise flavors are simplistic and clean in design on both the inside and outside of the package, as their original ketchup counterparts are. Minimal in ingredients, minimal in frippery. I’m excited to see a specialty food company working with mayonnaise- since Empire Mayo’s plethora of flavor releases, it’s been popular, but rarely done with other craft brands. Sir Kensington’s reputation and quality will hopefully open the doors for other companies to try their hand at eclectic mayo, too. And just in time for the Fancy Food Show (4th year running!)!

The new Gourmet Scooping mayonnaise, tested against an unnamed national brand rhyming with ‘Smellman’s,’ performs brilliantly- any pretense of awkward scooping is mitigated by the thick, creamy texture, lightly dotted with flecks of black pepper and a faint citrusy aroma. It’s the Greek yogurt of mayonnaise- a cut above the rest, with a more nuanced tang and acidity. It is also saltier than I expected it would have been. However, when analyzed on its own, the forefather of what I hope will be a golden age of artisanal mayonnaise, it falls a little short of my expectations.

I tried the mayonnaise in the two most important contexts- as a topping alongside a burger, and as a sauce for fries, the latter of which I picked up in Amsterdam, along with potential second-hand LSD flashbacks. What I liked about the European mayonnaise was that it stood on its own while acting as another way to enhance the glorious fries. It added another layer of shiny and rich to an already shiny and rich food without making it unnecessarily fatty. It’s lubricant for the soul. Did I expect that in Sir Kensington’s? Absolutely. Sir Kensington’s did for ketchup what society inexplicably did for Lena Dunham- validated the existence of a boring and overused staple of wiener-gobbling and brought out its insouciance. It was simple, but packed a punch.

While the mayonnaise was good, it had neither the indulgence of its European brethren nor the reimagined style of the brand’s initial frontrunner. It’s basic- high in quality, but essentially mayo v1.5. The chipotle is extremely well-crafted, despite suffering from the same high expectations as a result of Sir Kensington’s reinventing the wheel. Chipotle mayonnaise has been done before. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy that Sir Kensington’s made their own version, but it does mean that my standards will be elevated when testing it. This is a clean, generously-spiced version, and is the Jekyll to the mild Hyde of the original. It reminds me of samourai sauce, and its pungent flavor lingers on the tongue and works well with the richness of the original base. Sir Kensington’s has taken a bold risk in releasing this line of spreads, but needs work before they can distinguish themselves from the crowd. As a gourmet version of a commercial brand, I’d have been content, but with a craft company as renowned as this in the specialty food world, I expected more.

Mountain Dew Kickstart Energizing Fruit Punch

Mountain Dew Kickstart is released today, much to the chagrin and delight of bearded babyfaces all over the world. Maybe it’s just my curmudgeonly tendencies and complete inability to understand idiomatic phrases, but “Kickstart” doesn’t hold too much power for me. The last item I owned that functioned primarily via kickstarting was from 1978 and met an untimely death via theft, and vibrated weakly in between my legs for a mere $5 fill-up. Kickstarter is a scary company where the dreams of hipsters live and thrive, so you’ll have to excuse me for being a little dubious of Mountain Dew’s Kickstart, the latest in a long, quirky line of breakfast-themed sodas following slowly on the heels of the Taco Bell-exclusive Mountain Dew AM.

After a long day of copy-machine mangled documents and succumbing to the realization of how damned uncomfortable Hunter boots are in a mildly heated office environment, regardless of their animal magnetism and raw power, I needed a boost slightly more powerful than my regular combination of sweatpants and Elliot Smith. Enter Mountain Dew Kickstart in Energizing Fruit Punch, stage left, accompanied by the Bloodhound Gang. If anyone is a prime candidate for extra energy, it’s me. I mean, Birkin ain’t got nothing on those eye bags, if you catch my drift. Punchline: I’m exhausted!

Right off the bat, this is a drink you don’t want to confuse with regular fruit punch, because its kick of caffeine puts it in a category of danger even more lurid than the normal stuff. It’s not something you want to serve to toddlers, but also doesn’t seem to be nearly as potent as most energy drinks on the market. It’s sweet and sticky, like fruit punch and Mountain Dew, and ends up tasting a lot like the bug juice they used to pour into us at camp, minus the irritability and sunburn. As an aside, I like that the accompanying adjective to this is “energizing” rather than something creepy and implicit, like “rockin'” or “brain-meltin'”. It seems mature.

Would I serve this to teenagers? Only if I was making them perform hard manual labor. Is it for coffee drinkers? Well, the caffeine is equivalent to a cup of coffee, and somehow I can’t see my mom replacing her daily mug of joe with a can of this every morning before she heliskis to work. It seems inappropriate for kids, and it’s just not strong enough for regular energy drink users. Thus, it’s difficult for me to precisely envision who the core demographic for this group is- it seems to be best suited for the bicurious of drinkers, “bi” in this case referring to Vitamin B-curious, of which this contains 80% of your daily recommended value. Drink away, my minions. I’ll stick to my coffee and 90’s grunge.

Davio’s Northern Italian Frozen Reuben Spring Rolls

Happy Super Bowl, Davio’s is at it again, engaging in the time-honored tradition of publicly ousting a waitress at the minimum-wage pay scale for her love of non-Northern Italian Steakhouse food. I can only assume she was later fired. Who needs benefits and SEP plans when you have sandwiches, though? And Davio’s menu includes sesame-crusted tuna and macaroni and cheese. At this rate, a Reuben could be considered Northern Italian Steakhouse cuisine, seeing as their business model seems to be founded upon “food that people ingest.” Without further ado, here’s the Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse Reuben Spring Roll.

Accompanied by a package riddled with errors– really, Davio’s, with your propensity for stuffing inappropriate things inside spring rolls, this puts you well on par with a college stoner tapping out an English paper. Rueben? She’? Missing commas and crappy punctuation? These are the most basic of issues. Stop trying to focus on your open mic-esque comparison of Jewish and Italian cuisine (“They’re different cultures! They’re not the same! Am I right? Right? Right?”) and open up Microsoft Word before you send these off to the printers.
Also, I hate to gripe, but how does turning a Reuben sandwich into a spring roll make it Italian? The only mentioning of “Italian spring rolls” on the vast internet archives is from Nadia G, an apt partner in crime to match with Davio’s, now that I think of it.

These babies feature corned beef, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing wrapped up in a spring roll wrapper and fried. Of all the features, I was most afraid of the dressing, a trepidation that turned out to be well-founded. The beef and sauerkraut were delicious and portioned well. The fat in the beef melted from the indirect heat, and as a result, never got stringy or chewy, and the cabbage added a vinegary kick without getting too salty or mushy.

My main gripe lay in the dressing, as I mentioned before. It was concentrated on the ends of the roll, likely so that when cooked, it would evenly distribute throughout the roll. This was effective, but unfortunately, the concentration of dressing at the ends caused those sections of the roll to burn at a much faster rate than the rest of the roll, perhaps from the sugars in the sauce? I’m not sure of the cause, but it was not ideal. Luckily, the roll was tasty, although the predominant flavor was definitely the spring roll shell, followed by the heavily spiced meat. Apparently there was also Swiss cheese, but I didn’t detect it at all. 

These are tasty, but small and easily absorb grease. They are not going to satisfy your sandwich craving, or your spring roll craving, or your craving for Italian food at a Northern Italian Steakhouse that serves everything but Italian food. However, they’re not a half-bad Super Bowl snack, so I guess that gives them some edge over the standard reheated wings and pepperoni pizza at most shebangs.

Heinz Hot Sauce: Chipotle and Garlic, Green Jalapeno, and Yellow Habanero

Yes, tomorrow is the end of the world, so you’re going to have to expect to see strange memes, awfully photoshopped photos of skulls and Microsoft Word texts from the mid 90’s, and liveblogging from the apocalypse, courtesy of the Foodette Isn’t Going Anywhere foundation, circa 2012. Incidentally, the number of strange coincidences, like France releasing limited-edition products in sets of threes, has me intrigued and slightly convinced that the world might end. I’ve been here four months already with no sign of strange things, and all of a sudden, special editions of products are popping up all over the place. 

Another thing that leads me to believe that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket: France has finally embraced the idea of hot sauces, commercially available, in stores, and made by large, familiar companies for lonely ex-pats and curious Europeans. Like Pago, and the new Red Bull, these, too, were released in three, which explains my most recent grocery bill:

Harry’s white bread: 0,98 Euro
Apricot juice: 1,8 Euro
Heinz hot sauce: 6 Euro
Apricot jam: 1 Euro
Butter: 1.5 Euro

Three new hot sauces! In three new-ish flavors! Obviously, I had to get all three of them, and prominently display them on my kitchen table next to a Parisian cinderblock and quickly overflowing ashtray. Hashtag bohemian, my friends! This appears to be one of the only markets Heinz uses for hot sauce, so I figured they had to be good. In fact, they aren’t even on the company website yet. In Green Jalapeno, Chipotle and Garlic, and Yellow Habanero, they looked both minimal in ingredients and high-end enough to accompany the pulled pork and corn flakes I’ve been noshing in the end of days.

Well, there’s some good and bad to these. On one hand, they are hot sauces, and I refuse to believe that this is the last attempt for France to jump on the “spicy good, bland bad” bandwagon. On the other hand, the perfectly-tailored John Lobb shoe has dropped, and the verdict remains that these sauces are not damned spicy. They’re trying- they are spiced, but they are not spicy, so to speak. Their quantifiers of “medium, hot, and very hot” are as useful as putting warning signs on pipe cleaners and stuffed animals. Why bother? They have the intensity of gingerbread despite a vibrant color. It’s a pity, as they are really impeccably flavored, with a very rich, natural taste and easily distinguishable between the three. Their succinct ingredients gave them a wholesome edge that allowed them to blend easily with all manner of meat, bread, or spread.

My favorite of the three was the green jalapeno, followed by the yellow habanero. Both allowed the pepper to be showcased front and center with very little additional spice or herb encumbering the vegetal flavors. Like I said, they weren’t spicy, unfortunately, but at the very least, they imparted a more developed flavor onto meat. A zesty warmth, if you will, disappointing for the habanero as we approached that with trepidation only to find that it was bland as all hell. As for the chipotle and garlic, while I liked it, it wasn’t too far from the Cholula or taco sauce I typically use back home. Tasty, but not really hot. They tried, though, and if that doesn’t say “delicious end of the world snack” to me, I don’t know what does! I’m looking forward to seeing these become a coveted item on the post-apocalyptic black market once all the Tabasco has been rationed for emergency energy supplements. Vive la France!

Apéricube Soirée Filles: Goat Cheese, Sun-fired Veggies, and Fried Scallops Cheese Cubes

Scratch all that effluvium from yesteryear about how Pernes’ website was the best website in the history of all websites. Maybe a 3D model would cut it- if this was 2002! (editor’s note: Can we calibrate a record scratch for each time someone silently mouths that to themselves? No? Well, screw you, me.) That information is now as obsolete as an iPhone 4 with a Crazy Frog app and Bing set as its homepage. That frog is dead to me! A new reigning champion has entered the scene of disposable allocation of revenue toward Flash-generated advertising campaigns: Bel’s Apéricube!

You know them from such family-friendly products like Babybel, The Laughing Cow, and rapping bull GIFs! Say whuuuuuuuh?! (editor’s note: Seriously, that record scratch is money, and you’re an asshole.) Allow me a brief pause to take you through the World of Laughter (yes) and introduce you to the 27 (yes) cows whose bodily fluids are responsible for the Apéricube Girl Party/Soirée Filles selection I’m about to review for you today. (yes, and I’m sorry in advance.)

We start with an agonizingly long wait, presumably while all the freelance website designers of the world collectively sob into their shirts, and are amused by a hot vat of cheese precariously tilting while we wait. Protip: it never falls, which is good? Ish? Once we’re securely in the world of cows, greeted by ominous lowing and prefabricated bird sounds, we meet this guy like eight times and he progressively haunts my nightmares.

Rappe-T, or as he’s known on the street, Mayor McSleaze, has an extensive bio, and as a result of reading it, I now know more about him than I do about our current president. Sorry, Barack, but have you released a hit single with MC Rosbif? Didn’t think so. So, anyway, this guy exists and raps and apparently, also makes cheese while upsetting real live people on the real live bus and referencing “Twitter” and “blog” with the same apprehension that my grandmother has when she uses her iPad.

On to the review! Apéricube manages to accurately capture what women like to put in their mouths more accurately than any romantic comedy or yoghurt commercial ever will with their Soirée Filles line: fried seafood, fire-roasted vegetables, and goat cheese, all in soft cheese form. Where my Cosmo cheese cube at, Apéricube!? And they throw in trivia to boot. I will admit a brief moment of intense nostalgia for these. Apéricube existed briefly in the States where, like most delicious foods from the 90’s, they moved quietly to Europe once boy bands started being classified as “a thing.” I ate them as a child and now I am warily writing about them as an adult.

The trivia questions are about as much fun as you could make the timeless experience of squinting to read gooey, cheese-covered facts about sports teams and prime ministers. Fun fact: Two out of three trivia questions are cut off by the packaging. Want to know which sport Axel Pons plays? Well, too bad. You’ll just have to Wikipedia that shit like I did. Uh, well played, Apéricube.
The cubes are smooth in texture. Starting from least offensive to terrifying future food: chevre is unsurprisingly innocuous. Chalky, goaty, and forgettable with the remarkable consistency of toothpaste. Soon! The vibrantly-colored fire-roasted vegetables fares much better, with a surprisingly deep smokiness and lingering paprika and red pepper aftertaste. Definitely something I would toss in an omelette to give it an element of surprise and dairy. 
And now, the wild card. The Charlie Sheen of cheese. Why would anyone want to make fried scallops into a cheese flavor? Poêlée de Saint-Jacques is a classic French dish that apparently, the French hate enough to immortalize in soft cheese form. I spat this one out because it was repulsive. It was too close in color and texture to raw scallops to not make it a creepy experience. And it tasted just like them, too, with the beery flavor of fried batter and an oniony aftertaste. Basically, the only cheese-like thing that remained was the creamy texture.

Well, that was awful. Until next time, my compatriots, when I review such dainties such as the Man Party, featuring pizza-flavored cheese, tuna-flavored cheese, and ham ‘n’ olive-flavored cheese. No, wait, that’s not true, because I am not self-destructive. I am done with this noise. Peace out, Rappe-T. Godspeed to you and your pile of lady cows. Farewell, Girl Party. You were the sparkliest, and now you shall hold my hair ties for eternity.
Ladies? I hear he has an OKCupid account!

Le Jardin d’Orante Pomme et Speculoos Applesauce

After a busy few days, I’m back in the saddle again, so to speak. I have spent most of my week at school and at SIAL, a biannual international specialty food show that just happened to be in Paris this year and at this time. I wish I could tell you that I planned this all in advance, but I am just not that smooth. And I didn’t plan the Salon du Chocolat taking place next week, either. Needless to say, it’s been hectic, but amazing- I have so many wonderful new products to show you!

For starters, there’s this thing. A burgeoning food trend in France (can anyone tell me if this has extended to the rest of Europe?) is slapping speculoos on pretty much everything, as I’ve mentioned. I have never been so happy, or so secretly ashamed, to tell you that literally 13% of my refrigerator contains speculoos-infused items. This coming from the girl who “forgot” to buy toilet paper this week after seeing a 2-for-1 deal on mint-flavored water. Pathetic, but I wear it with pride.

This little number is the Le Jardin d’Orante’s applesauce receptacle, nothing new there, crammed with exactly one speculoos cookie as per the package’s diagram. I wish all ingredient lists came with rebus-like easy math. The applesauce is thick and sweet, your basic Mott’s-esque flavoring, with a smooth texture and slight pulpiness.

The problem lies in the speculoos. It’s not chunky and doesn’t make its presence known from a textural sense. It’s a lot like flavored water or seltzer- the essence of the flavoring is incorporated into the base, but it’s indistinguishable in appearance from its non-screwed with equivalent. However, I can’t in good faith attribute any of the resounding complimentary flavors- cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, and ginger, with speculoos. The cookie itself is greater than the sum of its parts. Without that inimitable texture and crunch, it’s just spiced applesauce. I applaud the ingenuity on part of Le Jardin d’Orante, but if I’m craving applesauce and cookies, will stick to the old-fashioned, albeit gross method of mashing them in applesauce with my bare hands.