Laughing Cow Light Queso Fresco and Chipotle Wedges

I know the fad has come and gone, but I don’t know if any product has irritated me so much as 100 Calorie Packs. All of a sudden, there were eight hundred varieties of my favorite snacks in twee miniature sizes with twice the packaging. Terribly annoying, as I now had a reason to diet and still eat my favorite foods.

So I’ve never really been into foods whose only redeeming factor lies in touting their number of calories. With 100 calories being the proverbial price point for most people to snack on, there isn’t a whole lot of indulgence your caloric budget can buy. But I’ve always loved Laughing Cow products. And with regular Laughing Cow wedges weighing in at fifty calories, I was skeptical to try ones that were even less- 35 calories a wedge. Could I create a 100 calorie snack that was both practical and satisfying?Four Ritz crackers have 64 calories, and one wedge of cheese is 35, clocking in at 99 calories. Perfect. Spreading this cheese, I was impressed with how creamy and soft it was. It had a slightly creepy pink tinge to it, like salmon paste or Pepto Bismal, but I wasn’t too worried. The flavor was amazing- for 35 calories, this rivaled queso I’ve had in restaurants. I’d be curious to see how this would work in a warm dip. Although calling it queso fresco might be a stretch, it was certainly tangy and creamy, with none of the chalkiness that comes from low caloric dairy-based foods. It was like listening to the melodic stylings of Journey and preferring the renditions by my roommate, Aggie- completely unexpected.The chipotle was present not in a burn, but in a subtle spiciness and intensely smoked flavor more like paprika than pepper, but I was pleased that it was still there. It was absolutely delicious on plain crackers and seems versatile. I appreciate the effort of Laughing Cow to go out on a limb and create interesting flavors, and I can see myself using this on bagels, homemade pizzas, and more. I’m pumped and under the crushing regime of 100 Calorie Packs no longer, because I am free!

Dunkin’ Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites

Dunkin’ Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites seemed to be right up my alley- like a more portable, cleaner method of suicide- versus the McGriddle, that is. Fantasies of creating a meta-sandwich entered my head briefly, knowing that if I did so, I would certainly need a will alongside my plate.

I assume this is some sort of begrudging acceptance of the failure of Dunkin’s short-lived maple waffle sandwich, because these really resemble the competition without reinventing the wheel. But are they better than my old standby?To my surprise, these weren’t so bad. But then again, my standards for “not so bad” include durian cookies, Three’s Company, and the song “Christmastime in East Haven.” They’re about as big as your average free-range pheasant egg or an obese cocktail wiener, and have a cornbreadesque outer shell. I would not put it within the realm of pancake- it is much heartier than that. Expecting a harder, crustier exterior, I was surprised to bite into something vaguely fluffy, but also kind of oily. To give you an idea about how large they are, I’ve compared them to some items at my job.
Sausage Pancake Bites are approximately 5x smaller than this automatic push pump soap dispenser ball.

Sausage Pancake Bites are roughly 300x smaller and 300x less pointless than this modern, turtle-shaped espresso machine, complete with my creepy hand looming in the reflection.

Sausage Pancake Bites are approximately 12x less fatal than these My First Serial Kill knives, if thrown at an opponent’s jugular.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of maple syrup in these. Like Yankee Candle, they smell of vaguely delicious artificiality, but unfortunately do not taste like that. I have learned this the hard way and am now banned from South Deerfield. The pancake shell is a throwaway gimmick, in this case, taking the form of a microwaved greasy cornbread thing, and the sausage inside was tasty, yet somewhat unremarkable.They’re just not filling enough for me to warrant consuming 300 calories when I could easily budget that towards something more sustaining, healthy, and tasty. I won’t be passing these up for my favorites, but I’m glad I tried them out at least once. They were inoffensive and portable, but not quite what I was looking for.

Madison Cheese, Etc., Madison, CT

Keepitcoming and I are back for Thanksgiving break, staying at Chez D with the good doctor herself, L, and a menagerie of animal friends. After getting an early night in, we woke up this morning excited to meet the day. Dr. D recommended a local cheese shop, Madison Cheese, Etc. in the center of town, highly lauding their delicious grilled cheeses.

Hankering for a warm meal, we checked out their menu. Each of their sandwiches is featured around mice- Country Mouse, City Mouse, etc, and can be customized with their rotating cheese selection. I was hoping to get a piece of the Drunken Goat cheese that An Immovable Feast is always talking about, but unfortunately, they didn’t carry it.

Keepitcoming got a Croak Mousey, their take on a Croque Monsieur, with a blend of cheeses and Black Forest ham. You can add hot sauce or mustard, so she added on mustard, and a healthy dollop of whole grain was added to the sandwich. My sandwich was one of their Welsh Mice, featuring Welsh cheeses. My first two choices were sold out, so I ordered a sandwich with Harlech cheese, a white cheddar blended with horseradish and parsley. Although I normally love condiments, I opted out in fear of the flavors contrasting.Our sandwiches were quite hot and well pressed, oozing cheese and butter on the outside. They each included a dried apricot on the side. Keepitcoming enjoyed her sandwich, but found the ham to be blander than she expected. All the portions were adequate and the cheese was tasty, but she liked the crisp on the white bread with my sandwich versus than on hers, made with whole grain bread.My sandwich was really comforting and gooey- a sophisticated twist on my childhood favorite. The white bread was buttery and crunchy on the outside with a thick enough cut to not get soggy in the middle of the sandwich. The cheese was delicious, with the pungent tang of horseradish without a lot of the heat. I saw nor tasted any parsley. It was the perfect consistency of cheese, oozing out of the middle in nice strands, but next time around, I’d add sauce now knowing that it can hold up to the crunch of the bread and would probably try another cheddar.

Theo Chef Sessions Confection Collection

Leave it to Theo, purveyors of the 3400 Phinney line, one of my favorite varieties, to create a box of chocolates that seemed to scream my name. Featuring unusual flavors, most of which centered around an autumnal theme, a limited time offer, and aesthetically pleasing compositions, how could I pass up the opportunity?

I was pacing my nine by nine cell, er, dorm, when this arrived, and I raced down to pick it up. The box had some surprising heft, and when opened, exposed the little jewels of chocolates inside. When Keepitcoming arrived, we quickly set about trying them.

Seven flavors from seven different chefs was the basic premise, but some of them looked pretty exciting. I’ve found that good chocolates, like good wines, have distinctive evolution in each bite, and develop their flavor during the period of consumption.

My most serious gripe is in the composition of this box. For whatever reason, there was no flavor guide on the box, and the juxtaposition of the text on top and the candies caused for some confusion while we ate. While it was fun to play a bit of a guessing game with the chocolates, I like to arrange my tastings by levels of intensity, and this caused for a somewhat mixed set of flavors. I wish the arrangement was either clearer or simply included a small map of flavors.We’ll start with the average. The caramels, for whatever reason, seemed to have less of a mastery of the flavors they were supposed to represent. The carrot caramel, by Gabriel Rucker, had a bit of acenscence to its flavor, sort of an earthy bitterness that was refreshingly rootlike versus the shredded bastardization carrot typically takes on in most desserts. There was presumably curried sea salt on top, but I didn’t taste it. Maria Hines’ tamarind lime chili caramel was true to its heated nature, but I think that was more from the chili garnish on top rather than the actual candy, and the only note of lime we tasted was at the end, and for a brief, fleeting moment. There was no tamarind to be found.

On a steady incline, we had the candied beet and almond praline truffle, by Holly Smith. The whole truffle had a nicely toothsome texture, but the beet’s flavor was highly diluted. The overall flavor was reminiscent of a tasty PB&J. If it had been represented as such, I might have been happier. However, the upscale ingredients seemed to imply a more exotic flavor, when the classic combination of a fruit jelly and a nut butter, to me, really only means one thing. Still tasty, but not nearly as strange as its components. The armagnac prune ganache and green peppercorn caramel was also tasty, with all the flavors taking center stage, but like an episode of Glee, were not as harmonious as I would have assumed.One of our top three flavors was the huckleberry and cinnamon basil ganache truffle. I was originally a little skeptical because I thought the only hint of basil was the garnish on top, but there was another layer of ganache on the bottom, in white chocolate, and the flavors exploded on our tongues. The infusion of herbs in this was truly decadent, and brought back fond memories of summertime adventures and summertime drinks. The overall experience was very well executed.

My personal favorite out of this entire collection was the pine resin ganache. Harboring a strong affinity for all things wood-smoked, smoke scented, or reminiscent of petrichor, I knew this was going to be right up my alley. And it was! The pine resin was in little, brittled chunks studded throughout the ganache, giving it the texture of a feuilletine, and had a wonderful smoky, meaty flavor enrobed in the nice rounded dark chocolate. Really exquisite.

The last confection we tried was Chris Cosentino’s agro dolce brittle, with capers, pine nuts, and currants. The salt in this was the strongest particular element. I’d have never guessed that there were pine nuts or currants in this otherwise. The capers worked surprisingly well with the chocolate and the brittle, and gave an intense, briny flavor overall. I found that the layering of flavors was the best executed out of the entire box- there was an immediate melt of the dark chocolate, followed by the buttery, crunchy brittle, and a sudden salinity in the middle, from the capers. I liked that part the best, and it lasted for quite a while, mingling with the brittle before dying down into a mixed finish.

I wanted to like this box a lot more, but the chocolates were hit or miss, so I’d worry about giving this as a gift, especially with the small quantity. They were more of a high quality, adventurous novelty than anything else, and the lack of a booklet and mixed quality of these makes me hesitant to recommend these to anyone less intrepid.

Walker’s Australian Kangaroo BBQ & San Marco Rodeo

There are a few combinations of some of the simple things in life that I strongly believe should always go together. Boats and ho’s, burgers and fries, meat and potatoes, pizza and wings, and movies with a good snack. This particular night, I had picked out an especially bad movie about radiation causing teeth go grow in a rather strange part of a young woman’s body; all I needed was some snacks and it was going to be a fantastic time. I found these two interesting bags of chips in a box of random food given to me by Foodette on a previous visit. They from the looks on the packaging, these were going to be as strange as this movie I was about to watch.The first bag of chips sounded as strangely as the movie I was watching. The flavor advertised on the bag clearly read “Australian BBQ Kangaroo”. As an American, I felt that as a nation of fat-asses, we were being outdone by the Brits from across the pond. Walker’s (owned by Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo) was able to put out such crazy flavors of chips in the UK that would be shot down by PETA faster than a sequel to this god-awful movie. I opened this bag expecting the best but all I was met with was disappointment and disgust, much like what my expectations and what I got from this movie. I wanted there to be little bits and essences of a roasted kangaroo in each chip but what I got just tasted exactly like BBQ Pringles chips on a standard Frito-Lays chip. It’s a little sweeter than that standard Lay’s BBQ flavoring, but nothing too special.The second bag of chip was mysterious in its own Italian way. From the package, the only thing I could read and comprehend was “Rodeo” and “King Sized”. I didn’t know what to expect, except for maybe something cowboys would eat and was fit for a king. I opened it up and was met with much mediocrity, much like the acting and direction of the movie. What this bag contained was just corn chips. No different than come Frito’s corn chips, except they were big. There were some really big-ass sized chips. They should be the standard size of corn chip in America and the Italians can have our small sized corn chips. The taste was the same as average corn chips, but the size was good and hearty. I could have put salsa on them if I wanted.(The movie mentioned in this review is “Teeth” See it if you want, but it’s not a very good film despite its premise)

Autentica Mexican Restaurant, North Hadley, MA

I don’t know where this sudden seafood craving came from. I can’t be pregnant unless I’m having puppies or something, and I don’t think my body has any particular crab cake deficiency that it’s trying to alert me to. But VV and I went out for Mexican tonight and all I could think of was the glory of fish tacos.

In a recent article by the Houston Press, I was a little miffed to discover that, while delicious, Cheez Wiz nachos are not, in fact, authentic Mexican food. Pooh. However, fried fish tacos are, so I could eat these and be true to the integrity of the food and its origin. Right?

Wrong. Autentica tried hard with its sombrero-heavy atmosphere and softly trilling Herb Alpert knockoff cassettes, but its food just didn’t deliver. I was hard pressed to find very many original dishes on this menu- where La Veracruzana has legendary enfrijoladas on their menu and Mi Tierra boasts sky-high sopes, there was nary a torta or a pupusa to be seen here. I figured fish tacos with jalapeno cream sauce would be inoffensive and, god forbid, tasty.Two tacos came piled high with lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese. Strike one. Coleslaw is the traditional taco topping, and the shredded cheese, unmelted and powdery, was superfluous. After digging away to find the fish underneath, I came up with small, nickel-sized chunks of mahi-mahi, ranging from overcooked to flaky, with sparse coating and no crunch at all making up about 25% of the taco. The jalapeno cream sauce was sour cream with pickled jalapenos on top.

I don’t know. As much as I love tacos, I feel like this would have been better if I’d been drunk. Being hungry, I ate them placidly, but feel as though with an infinitesimal amount of preparation would have improved these- a little coleslaw on top, better, larger pieces of fried fish, and blending the peppers and sauce together. Little things. It was one of the first instances where the side dishes it came with, rice and beans, were more flavorful and tastier than the main meal.VV had a bean burrito with guacamole, salsa, lettuce, and rice, and it looked like she really enjoyed it. I can’t comment on it myself, but it definitely looked fresh and tasty. Next time, I’ll try the other Mexican restaurant in South Hadley, or I’ll just stick to an old stand by, Mi Tierra or La Veracruzana. Yum.

Jolly Time Mallow Magic Popcorn

Holy shit, holy shit. VOODOO MAGIC.

No, I’m serious. I’ve discovered the portal to literal black magic. It’s in this popcorn- Jolly Time Mallow Magic.I don’t know why I was so hesitant to try this when it was originally sent to me. The combination of marshmallow cream and popcorn seemed a little too incestuous to me, like Flick, the mildly retarded cousin of Snap, Krackle, and Pop. But I needed to up my ante with my Scattergories game, and the question was “Ways to scare your roommates with weird food.”

After my bawdy experience with Homestyle popcorn, I was ready to try something a little more exotic. After all, as they say in Oklahoma, “once you try marshmallow, you’ll…wear a lot of art deco.” Or something like what. Whatever. This seemed familiar and weird enough for me to enjoy without feeling bad in the morning.

When I opened the bag of popcorn, I expected it to be plain popcorn enhanced by the creamy white sauce I’d slather on top. But this was not so! My sauce was counterattacked by synthetic marshmallow flavor on the popcorn. What’s that, a meta, you say? It was! It was as though Jolly Time was gesturing toward the popcorn, saying, “Yo dawg, I heard you liked marshmallows, so we put marshmallow sauce on marshmallow popcorn so you can marsh while you marsh!”


I marshed all up in that bitch, actually, while watching Teen Mom and looking at micropenises on the internet. The popcorn was delicious without the sauce- it tasted like a satisfying kettle corn, and I was worried that I’d ruin the popcorn by pouring the sauce on. But I forged on, not out of dignity (that had long been sacrificed) but because there is literally no other function for an extra packet of synthetic marshmallow sauce in my life.The end result was fantastic. It tasted identical to a Rice Krispie treat but was somehow less sticky. It was obviously a result of voodoo magic, also known as “lots of oil,” but was comfortingly tasty. And by a magical proxy, none of this stuck to my fingers yet adhered perfectly to the popcorn. Fuck you, David Blaine, this shit is REAL!

My only criticism is that not all of the goo adheres to the popcorn, leaving you sadly pawing through the bag after all the goo is happily consumed.

In conclusion, I loved this popcorn. Damn, girl.

Sahale Snacks Sing Buri Cashews

I love Asian food.

Finding Swagger was the best thing I’ve ever done, and that includes investing in Merck, babysitting for Michael Jackson, promoting imperialism in the 1819, and campaigning for Bob Dole.

But Swagger. Holy zeppoles, it’s like a whole new world of adventures and food has been opened to me. I’d had Thai food before, but the first time we cooked real pad thai, I felt like I was really eating this melange of flavors with the added satisfaction of having prepared it on my own.

Of course, this might also be a result of the phenomenon Stuff White People Like know as “diversity,” in my love of diversity as it relates to restaurants. Or my overwhelming gluttony with new foods. So when these mail-order nuts came to me for perusal, I immediately thought of delicious, delicious Thai food.These nuts, a combination of cashews and peanuts covered in dried pineapple, sesame seeds, lemongrass, and chilies, are like eating instant pad thai with no preparation at all. It brought me back to my beautiful, endless summer, watching Talladega Nights with Keepitcoming and eating Thai with my dogs. These are really well-crafted. My biggest surprise was the lemongrass in this. Maybe I just have low expectations, but the lemongrass played a really big role in rounding out the spice from the chilies. These weren’t very spicy, but I didn’t expect them to be. The predominant flavor was a really nice, sweet nuttiness that the black sesames and cashews gave, like a homemade peanut butter, and the citrusy, mild lemongrass.The pineapple pieces were a little less distinct aside from texture, which was admittedly abysmal. It was the wrong combination of dried fruit and gumminess, which made these far too hard on the teeth and sticky at the wrong moments. In fact, when I first ate these (their spice makes them a fantastic drinking food) I didn’t even register the fruit bits as being pineapple. I thought they were candied ginger until I isolated and ate one, analyzing the contents with my Fruit Content Particle Receptor 3600. The FCPR 3600 then told me that it was pineapple, probably of the Hawaiian variety. Very good. But the pieces were infrequently studded, and in the end, I couldn’t decide whether this was for the better or not.

I thought these were a really ingenious twist on the classic concept of bar nuts, and a piquant alternative to plain potato chips. If you’re feeling like Asian cuisine and don’t feel like cooking, these are right up your alley.

Hot Lips Pear Soda

They used to call me “Hot Lips” in high school.

Okay, I can’t even take that one seriously.

Just the fact that there’s a soda out in this world called “Hot Lips” allows me to bring that seldom used phrase out of my traditional application (addressing masseuses) and into the actual world. It might be more satisfying than those deep tissue kneads and the happy endings, too.

For a soda with four ingredients, I’ve never had a more satisfying and flavorful beverage. It does what commercial drinks and LOGO have been striving for for ages- puts the fruit front and center. This wasn’t even my favorite of their sodas, but we drank up their others before we even had a chance to photograph them, and the pear looked the most dramatic against tweed.In order to better facilitate my drinking experience, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I took a plane out West a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of breaking into the Harry and David factory and nabbing a few of their pears, which I then took home and pureed through a sieve a couple of times before achieving the perfect pear juice. That was mixed with some carbonated Voss water I’d had lounging around, and was poured together for comparison with the Hot Lips soda.While the aforementioned event never happened, the Hot Lips end of the deal couldn’t have been closer to the truth. These sodas are pure, and not in a Facebook quiz resulting in 58% purity or a high school “virgin”, but genuinely pure. They taste like the fruit they represent. Mired in a society whose latest and greatest culinary births involved blue raspberry and the Blackjack taco, that’s a big fucking deal. In the case of the pear, it wasn’t cloudy as Food Junk’s soda had been, but was still lip-smackingly good and smooth in the mouth. The pear was mellow with a slightly citrine flavor. After drinking, my only two wishes were that the carbonation was a tad higher, going from gentle bubbles to more of a bite, and that the soda came in large 7-11 jugs. My third wish was for a small harem of puppies, but even the charm of Hot Lips can’t grant that.

I’m saving my last bottle of this like I’d save a 1968 Chateau D’Yquem. I’m probably going to bring it out at my winter gala if I feel the crowd is right, or perhaps get Keepitcoming a half case as an early Christmas gift. These are well worth the cost and fantastic for any soda connoisseur.

L’Artisan Du Chocolat

I spoke a few days back about the relationship between aesthetics and palate, and how important I value a careful balance of the two to create something truly spectacular. I consider good food to be like good writing- anyone can do it as a task, be it cooking or blogging, but when true artistry comes along, it’s incredible and very special.

I can safely say that tonight, Keepitcoming and I had what was probably, to date, the best chocolate I’ve ever consumed. I mean, it takes a lot for me to willingly consume twenty of anything, and even after a large dinner, we just shared twenty truffles. This was only Keepitcoming’s second experience with consuming an entire box of chocolate, the first being Maison Du Chocolat, equally as comparable.L’Artisan du Chocolat is based out of LA, too far away for me to visit, but as soon as I saw flavors like Kalamata olive, mango and wasabi, and Korean red bean, I knew I had to have these. So three days later, the truffles arrived, and we ate them today.

Let me start by emphasizing how pretty these truffles are. I feel like a lot of thought was put into emulating some of the flavors in the outer shapes and patterns on top, and each one was different and pleasing to the eye. My personal favorite was the Italian pistachio, because it looked like little trees in different shades of green, giving a nod to the inside colors as well.

It was hard to pick our five favorites, but in no particular order, here they are. The rosemary and lavender chocolates had soft, creamy interiors. The herbs were delicately sweet, but noticeable in the composition of the truffle and easily recognizable. I think that was what won me over for a majority of these chocolates- the subtle yet distinguishable flavors that accurately mimicked the real product.The pineapple and coconut truffle, surrounded by white chocolate, tasted like a fresh pina colada with chunks of pineapple inside. It was decadently moist with a fruity pulp, and I was surprised that it embodied such a textural similarity instead of simply the essence of both fruits.

Another white chocolate success was the Japanese matcha truffle, another flavor with a softer inside and a earthy flavor. It was fabulous, with an intensity rivaling many other tea-flavored treats I’ve had in the past, and with another really beautiful exterior. The white chocolate added some sweetness to cut the natural bitter tea flavor and made it creamy. I loved the pairings of chocolate with these- I felt like a good deal of thought went into discovering which chocolate percentages went with which flavors to really accentuate the vibrancy of both elements, and found the chocolate to be equally as high of a quality as the filling.

The last of our favorites, which longtime readers will be shocked to discover, was something I’d previously refused to eat. I have to admit, this was really all about timing. If this was the first truffle we’d tried, I might have turned it down. But twelve truffles in and I had a pretty good idea about how good these were, so I trusted the chocolates and dove in. And I loved the Shitake mushroom truffle. That’s right. I ate a mushroom truffle and I adored it. I don’t think I’m going to start eating beef Wellington or start sniffing around in crap for actual truffles, but this is a start. It was earthy and meaty and incredible with dark chocolate.Another honorable mention goes to bacon, passion fruit, and curry kiwi, two unique successes that we also loved with textures and flavors that really popped. There were a few truffles that didn’t sit well with us, the most memorable being the Aztec truffle. The concept was in the right place, with apricot and three chilies, but unfortunately ended up tasting remarkably identical to cherry cough syrup, right down to the menthol eucalyptus numb factor. Others were palatable, but just didn’t have the same pinpoint accuracy as others, bumping them down a few notches. And it goes without saying that despite saving it for last, Korean garlic was one of the strangest and least congruent flavors I’ve ever had. I’m glad I tried it, but it was so intense and pungent that I could barely finish the small bite I took. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

Really, these were stupendous. I’d order these again in a heartbeat, and I’m anxiously awaiting the summer, when I can sample the tomato and cucumber vodka truffles. These were incredible in every single aspect of what makes chocolate good, and to have unusual flavors instead of the standard quotidien really satiated my inner gourmand.