Contest: Cheese Party for 10 at Murray’s!

Heads up, guys, my awesome friends at Murray’s are holding an incredibly cool contest running through the 31st. The grand prize winner wins a cheese party for ten of their closest, least lactose intolerant friends, in Murray’s Cheese Caves. Kind of makes your Pikachu pinata from last year’s pizza party look a little gauche, son. Enter now!

Murray’s Party in the Caves Contest

Who wouldn’t want to win a cheese tasting party with 9 of your closest friends…and a tour beneath Greenwich Village of Murray’s CHEESE CAVES? That’s what Murray’s is offering this month through a new online contest: all you need to do is enter to win by October 31, and the party could be yours. (winner picked at random, and can live anywhere in the US and be willing to travel to NYC)

Enter online at http://wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/155515 or through Facebook or Twitter.

Grand Prize: One lucky winner is invited to party at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village along with rare cave aged cheeses, free-flowing wine and 9 of their closest friends. Includes cave tour and a wine & cheese tasting.

2nd Prize: Two seats in our popular Mystery of the Caves class in NYC that includes a guided tour of our subterranean cheese caves and a tasting class.

3rd Prize: A package of five delicious cave aged cheeses delivered to your door! (anywhere in the US)

Check back soon for a special review…we may be trying some cave cheeses!

McDonald’s Pumpkin Pie

Before I start in about my aversion to most pies and my jokes about package warnings, you should know that getting this pie was one of the most singularly awkward experiences I’ve ever had at a McDonald’s, including that one time two friends and I walked through a drive-through after skinny dipping one summer. Or the time Dillinger got out of the car and danced to the Time Warp in the drive through and then ordered as though nothing had ever happened. More awkward than that.

Keep in mind that I ordered this pie at around 10 in the morning while getting groceries for brunch. A little dessert apertif, if you will. While deciding what I wanted and opting out of a morning McGriddle, I thought it would be a good idea to stock up on hot mustards for my next few meals. Like my friend Justin, I’ve had a torrid and longstanding relationship with the hot mustard. Long story short, the woman at the front would only sell me the mustards once I reassured her that I wouldn’t be dipping the pie in the sauce. Not that it was any of her business.
Anyway, I went through all that stress to purchase a product I wasn’t entirely keen on ordering. I’ve never been a fan of pie crust or pies, not since the end of my grandfather’s legendary desserts, but I was feeling seasonal today and saw that there was a deal on pies, two for a buck. The pie comes housed in a shell that has a pair of anguished white kids making out on it and says, no less than six times, “CAREFUL- I’M HOT.” The “I’m” is what really creeps me out. Not only was this pumpkin once sentient, it implies that, even mushed up and rendered far beyond its original form, it is still thinking, breathing, and generating heat. It can hear you have sex, is all I’m sayin’.
The normally unadorned pie crust is covered in a brown blend of spices, a practice I think should apply with all of McDonald’s fruit pies. It greatly enhances the flavor and texture of the crust with a homey ginger, cloves, and nutmeg touch and gives it a little more depth than the typically flavorless crust on their apple pies. For fifty cents, it won’t evoke images of a Thanksgiving dinner, but you won’t cry as hard eating it alone. The crust was flaky and crisp. With the effort the crust took in coming close to a real pumpkin pie, I was surprised at how much the filling felt like an afterthought. While packed well in the corners and crannies of the pie, the filling’s flavor was bland, with a texture and flatness tasting nearly identical to the canned pumpkin pie filling I use in our oatmeal. My suspicions were confirmed when I scooped a spoonful of pie filling out of the nearly empty can and a bit of filling out of the pie. At room temperature, they’re practically the same. Normally I’m not a fan of overly sweet fruit fillings, but I know three things if I know anything- I like m’whiskey neat, m’cigs filtered, and m’pumpkin sweet.
While I admire their restraint in a world of Coldstone PB&C shakes and candy, in this case, underseasoning was a detriment and took the focus away from the delicious crust. I still appreciate the effort and variety of desserts McDonald’s is putting out. Needless to say, it’s a worthy contender in the crop of pumpkin-themed desserts that have been appearing in fast food restaurants and convenience stores and is a classic way to get your cucurbita on.

Fizzies Limited Edition Fizzin’ Apple Cider and Fizzin’ Hot Cocoa

Alka-Seltzer: it’s not for babies who can’t eat Mexican food! Not anymore! Take all the allure and sophistication of being a retiree and combine it with fun, kid-friendly flavors and a freaking wizard. Boom. Fizzies. While I haven’t seen a Formula 1 wheelchair yet or a denture-shaped gummy treat, I can tell you that Fizzies have been a nostalgic and omnipresent part of my life for the last few years. My mom grew up drinking Fizzies and the yout’ of today saw a resurgence in their cool factor with the short-lived Kool-Aid Fun Fizz product of yesteryear, but now we have a new breed to bring back the effervescent game. Fizzies have come out with two limited edition flavors for fall and winter to warm your MS Painted heart and soul. I love wintry drinks. Personally, I’m of the ilk that believes that America is spending too much of our GNP on summer beverage releases with tired flavors like Longboarding Lime and Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Bikini. I haven’t seen a beverage attempt to riff on the subject of “butt-freezing New England winters” since the short-lived Pepsi Holiday Spice, which tasted like mouthwash mated with suicide.

Learning that Fizzies came out with a tablet to mimic hot cider and hot cocoa set my loins aflame and my nose adrippin’ with the thought of curling my hands around a nice, hot mug of carbonated retro charm. With a little help from my friends at Amerilab, samples were obtained and I waited for my first cold evening to try these out. Fizzies, as I’ve explained before, are pretty easy to make. They’re as instant as instant gets without making a chocolate-flavored Capri Sun and take about thirty seconds to activate in hot water or milk.
I was instantly skeptical about both of these due to their resemblance of homemade, bathtub brewed hops. The darker of the two, the hot cocoa, was exactly what I’d feared it would be after dropping a fat-free, chocolate tablet into a mug of warm milk. All the fizz had risen to the top of the glass, like the foamy head of a Guinness without the drunken payoff. The flavor wasn’t at all like hot chocolate. It was thin and bitter, with a flavor primarily tasting like an unsweetened square of baking chocolate. It felt chalky in my mouth and had a strange additional flavor from the fizziness that I couldn’t put my finger on. The hot cider fared much better as a hot drink, but just barely. The absence of sugar gave it a dirt-like, sour tang.It had all the spices and sweet, earthy flavor of cider, but tasted more like teas that attempt to create an herbal replication of a delicious treat without any additional sugars. They come somewhat close, as close as herbs and spices can get, but inevitably miss due to their just not being as good as a sugar cookie, slice of red velvet cake, or in this case, mug of warm, apple cider.
I don’t think these limited flavors hit the spot for me, but with a website that classifies cocktails for kids and adults underneath the heading of “fizzy fun,” with drinks spelled in the same fashion as The Snake Hole, you can bet I’ll be kicking back this summer with a CherCran Blozzom. I mean, holy cow, that Fizzie Pink Gummies drink looks like something straight out of a Thomas Keller interpretation on Lolita. Too bad their wintry inceptions weren’t so tempting. For now, I’ll satisfy my chilly urges by dreaming of a Lapsang souchong Pepsi Christmas.

JetPuffed PumpkinSpice Mallows

Yesterday, I may have convinved you that I do not like pumpkin. This is a lie. Of course I like pumpkin. I was referring to pumpkin the vegetable that I hate, not pumpkin the artificial flavor! And believe me when I tell you that we are getting pumpkin cuh-razy up in this bitch.
I found these yesterday in the same aisle as the pumpkin spice kisses, and when you see two adorable, seasonal candies nestled in the same area, how could you not? It would be like tearing one puppy away from its littermate. If you don’t take the plunge, you’re a soulless bastard. So plunge I did, into a package of Jet Puffed Pumpkinspice marshmallows. And yes, that’s Pumpkinspice. On the package, it’s all capitalized like a generic medication. PUMPKINSPICE, now with extended release nutmeg.

About four of these marshmallows equal one regular sized ‘mallow, and they’re an orange shade of taupe and roughly shaped like pumpkins. I am not a fan of the color at all. Eaten out of context, they look like a candy inspired by the most boring paint schemes available at Home Depot. Because of their squishy texture and raised shape, they end up looking more like scallops before they’re cooked. As marshmallows go, I appreciate the sizing down because these are damned sugary. But because they’re so small, more like mini marshmallows, they don’t really hold up well to roasting. Not to say that our autumn s’more wasn’t totally boss, but they dangled off the skewer and browned unevenly, which made them resemble wrinkly testicles. No joke. But the spice flavors were decent.
They didn’t have the same strength as the Kisses, and had more of a weak, generic spice blend flavor. The texture of the marshmallows was also pretty inconsistent. Some were fluffy and smooth and others were strangely sticky, as though they’d leaked their spice formula, and wrinkled. While fun and festive, they weren’t ideal for snacking on due to their sweetness, and would probably be better for baking in a sweet potato casserole or some killer rice krispie treats. I’m smitten by their charm, but I’m kind of bored with them. If these were stuck in a burning house and I had to choose between these or my broken coffee machine, I’d probably halfheartedly grab these until I realized they were melting in the heat and then abandon them. But I would have thought of them first.

Hershey’s Kisses Pumpkin Spice

Most people enthusiastically embrace the hallmarks of their favorite season when it rolls around. Girls with Facebook statuses rife with country music lyrics and poorly Photoshopped photos relish the day that summer starts so they can don their bikinis and fake Ray Bans. The elderly like spring because they can start making floral-themed crafts. And fat people love the goddamned winter because goose down coats, that’s why.

But my favorite season is fall, and to be honest, I’m a terrible ambassador for it. I stubbornly insist on wearing button down shirts with the sleeves rolled up and can’t stand the idea of a pumpkin latte. Falling leaves make me whirl around and twitch like a paranoid Rain Man. Plaid makes me look even more gay than Brooks Brothers does, and don’t get me started on turtlenecks. Picture actual turtles without necks. That’s how I look in one. I’m terrible at determining the weather before I step outside and often end up wearing a bulky leather jacket in 80 degree weather in October or a wife beater in pouring rain.

Finally, I think I’ve found a candy to redeem my cardinal sins for so poorly representing the season I love. Although I’m two years late to the game, I’ve tracked down the latest from Hershey’s Kisses, pumpkin spice. Again, not a huge fan of pumpkin. It’s a hair too close to squash, and squash is a vegetable, but I always make sure to have at least one slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But these are a whole different ball game. These are freaking delicious. First, off, these are cuter than six black kittens jumping out of brightly colored gourds that happen to also have kittens carved on them. Wearing witch hats. The candies themselves are a dull orange, not unlike a pumpkin after Halloween, but this color is somewhat misleading. In actuality, they do not contain pumpkin. Inside, they have a white center, although the package gives no indication to what that flavor may be. Texturally, they are a cross between a Hershey’s Hug with a singularly solid filling made of two types of chocolate and those shortlived Hershey’s New York Cheesecake kisses with the cheesecake filling. The center is more solid than creamy, but yields more than a typical solid hunk of chocolate would. For the life of me, I cannot tell what flavor it is- it seems to be just a center of white chocolate, which, for the harvesty theme, is a little disappointing. It’s just a flat, sweet flavor. I would have much preferred a yogurty tang to offset the sweetness of the entire thing.
The outer shell is where this really starts to shine. I could be biased after two years of living in close proximity to the horrendous Yankee Candle Factory. It could have numbed and warped my taste buds, but this flavor is comfortingly close to a particularly delicious votive candle. All the spices of fall are prominent in this candy- allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg are especially strong, and meld seamlessly with the chocolate. I guess it’s a bit of picayune stickling, but technically, the name “Pumpkin Spice” delivers exactly what it says it will deliver- the spices in pumpkin. For whatever reason, Hershey’s opted against going “full pumpkin” and didn’t include it in the candy at all. Regardless of what’s in it, these are the perfect candies to get you in the mood for fall. Not too sweet, not too overbearingly autumnal, and perfect with a mug of hot cider or mead if you’re a neckbeard, despite their somewhat murky content, they’re one of Hershey’s most successful seasonal offerings so far.

Halloween Kit Kat

It was late last night when I remembered why I don’t typically purchase Halloween candy a month before Halloween. Four Kit Kats. Two girls. Thirty in a bag. Hershey’s was nice enough to send me this bag, as well as a few other beauties that we’ve admittedly opened and chomped, but I’ll have to be extra vigilent to save some for the Trick or Treaters.
Not that I’m not an admitted fan of the original Kit Kat, but it’s sometimes a little too sweet. While the Halloween version doesn’t have any particularly different coating or inner twist- it’s merely white chocolate dyed a pleasant pumpkin orange color, (still waiting on that boudin noir Kit Kat, Japan!) it’s still pretty damned good. The white chocolate isn’t nearly as sweet as its milky counterpart and with the wafers and creamy filling, tastes a lot like vanilla frosting.
While I won’t pretend that these have amazing health virtues or supplements, they’re tiny and three of them have 210 calories. Not that you’ll stop at three. I think that what’s so satisfying about a Kit Kat, such a classic treat, is how fluffy and crunchy the wafers are. Despite their literal smothering in chocolate, they maintain a light crunch similar to Panko. In a way, I’m sort of glad these didn’t reinvent the wheel, or in this case, the bar. While I would have jumped for joy to see a pumpkin or chai flavor, it’s refreshing to eat a regular old candy bar that is what it is and doesn’t try to mask its sugar content with whacky flavors and still remains festive. It was good- too good. I’d like to see more flavors that incorporate the white chocolate coating succeed on the market with the same level of restraint- hazelnut and maple come to mind.
Cat Cat enjoyed it, too. (Even though she was only allowed to bite the wrapper!)

Domino’s Artisan Pizza Italian Sausage and Pepper Trio

I’m a snob. There, I said it. The hard part is over and this post can commence like a meeting of AA with better coffee and no clothes. I’m a big ol’ snob and I kind of resent the ironic tone of the Domino’s ads and pizza box. “We’re not artisans,” it begins, as if one ordered Domino’s to experience the full throttle perfection of a New Haven or Chicago pie to begin with but just got frustrated with the lack of computer systems and cute boxes. “We don’t wear black berets, cook with wood-fired ovens, or apprentice with the masters in Italy.” Nor do we trim our plush, black moustaches or refrain from using tried stereotypes, but whatever. I can deal. This is all below a line for your proud pizza parent to sign after its conception. Oy. With this strange marketing concept, eaters start with the knowledge that Domino’s, like your single neighbor Chuck and his closet full of lingerie, is desperately trying to casually deny an identity it secretly desires.

But seeing as I’m a fan of all things admittedly artisanal or not, I still wanted to eat one of these. I had neither the cash nor the hunger to order three of these, but did go out on a limb and order the Italian Sausage and Pepper Trio one night. At $7.99, I’m not sold on the price. Maybe because there’s a pizza joint nearby that offers a freshly made slice with two toppings roughly the size of an infant for $3, or maybe because I’m wondering if this is a result of the artisan tagline. It’s basically their regular pizza in a different shape. I built a medium pizza with the same toppings for an annoying $13.34, so while this is more cost effective, it just doesn’t scream artisanal. It would have served two people if we’d enjoyed it, I’m sure. That being said, we did not.
Opening the box, which was unsigned by our embarrassed pizziolo, the pizza was fragrant and thankfully, not dripping with greasy sausage remnants. The whole “tough guy” artisan persona seeps into the ordering system- an eater can take off toppings, but not add anything additional. This pizza came with a red sauce base, parmesan-asiago blend, Italian sausage slices, and green, red, and yellow roasted peppers. It smelled excellent and appeared to have generous toppings. But from the get-go, it was clear that not all the slices were born to be equally delicious.
The bad.
The ugly.
It was incredibly annoying to have the fact that these were carefully hand-made drummed into our heads and yet still find pieces that were half crust with two measly pieces of sausage and no cheese. I understand that a little human error is expected when you employ bored college kids to goof around and make pizzas, but we couldn’t eat half of that piece because of all the crust.
The sausage was moist, but the tempting fennel and spice aromas were overwhelmed by the fatty, salty flavor. This was pretty one-noted, and needed some spice. If I could make a replacement to this pizza without fearing the wrath of the artisan pizza bros, it would be the addition of a spicier sauce, red pepper flakes, and replacing the banana peppers, slippery, vinegary pieces better suited to a deli sandwich, with roasted jalapeno pieces. The roasted green and red peppers complimented the sausage in a nostalgic way for me, as my family used to get wonderful sausage and pepper pies at a pizzeria near my grandmother’s, but the banana peppers were just a sharp and cloying annoyance. I ended up picking them off.
Ironically, if Domino’s enforced the artisanal approach instead of making fun of it, I think they could have a good pie. The topping choices are decent, if uninspired, and the square party pizza style slices are easy to share and portion. I think it’s snooty to not allow any substitutions or changes to a reasonable extent, and somewhat of a cop-out to use existing toppings from their repertoire. Instead of not allowing the customers to substitute toppings, how about having toppings exclusive to the artisan pizzas? Marinated eggplant, sundried tomatoes, fried egg, fresh mozzarella or goat cheese and red potato come to mind as things I’d definitely be interested in ordering from Domino’s simply because it would be different. By shedding the artisanal values and ingenuity, they stunt themselves in appealing to the every-man. Domino’s is an average, mass-produced pizza company. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if they want to step outside of the box, their customers should be pleased and surprised by the deviation from their norm.

Archer Farms Greek-Inspired Thick-Cut Potato Chips

The geniuses at Industrial Snack and Magic have created yet another mind-morphing flavor of potato chip, brought to you by Target, to blow your mind and gently caress your tongue. And really, who wouldn’t want the vague flavors of a Greek gyro in a small, single-serving bag? Nazis, that’s who. And even they would warm up to the description of feta cheese and kalamata olives. It’s a veritable freaking medley, is what it is! Although we found these in miniature bags on clearance, they were perfectly fresh and crisp. Maybe snack bags of salad inspired chips just aren’t on kids’ radars outside of kids in UES schools.
In any case, these were eaten in the car, paired with a slice of leftover birthday cake and gummy rabbits. A most balanced pairing, one of my finest. Archer Farms is a professional at this strangely flavored potato chip racket, a riverboat snacker, if you will, and this happens to be one of their better flavors. While I’m not a fan of the ruffled texture, the flavor was fairly accurate for an ingredient rap list that included cheddar cheese and the ever-generic “spices”. It had the pleasantly unobtrusive tang of feta, and while it may not have completely evoked the crumbly, wet texture of the cheese, it certainly got its flavor down pat. The olives were a stretch. By stretch, I mean they were nonexistent. I suppose my tongue isn’t enough attuned to the nuances of olives to discern its specific provenance, but it tasted like the olives hopped the ship once they learned they weren’t going to garnish one of Giada De Laurentiis’s RI-GAAAAHT-AAAAH dinners and sent in vinegar as a replacement. Tangy cheese and…tangier condiment. Felt like I’d eaten the good bits of a salad.
Original though it was, some things were never meant to be potato chips, Greek food one of them. The flavors were present, but overshadowed by the potato chip itself in all its likeable yet greasy personality. The Guy Fieri of all snacks. Though I can’t help but wonder what a culinary trip around the globe would be in places where balut is the regional specialty. Knowing the companies behind them, they’d find a way to make even partially fertilized duck fetuses bland and overly salted. For 75 cents, this served its noble purpose as an interlude between meals, a brief distraction from the dining halls, but on any grander scale, it would just fall flat.

Kent Island Crab Cakes

Holy crab. As scripted as it may seem, that was my first thought after biting into one of these crab cakes. I wonder if the rec center will have ice skating this year. My second thought. See, I’m just like you. Nothing to it. I hope I never move to Maryland and then move away from it because then I’ll have to give up these crab cakes. And here we are once more. These crab cakes and red crab soup, sent from Kent Island Crab Cakes, are the perfect example as to why if you decide to try something new that you’re not a fan of, you should give the best of its kind a fighting chance. These will make fish nerds rejoice and fish haters give up the fight.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have eaten this. I wonder what kind of culinary butterflied chicken effect would have occurred with my palate had I been introduced to all things seafood with these. They’re the best way to introduce a seafood virgin into the watery depths, as they’re perfect whether unadorned or dipped in remoulade sauce (this one being a whimsical creation of mine with a fresh pepper from the garden) and have consistent and familiar qualities. Soft shell crab may be delicious, but put one in front of a newbie eater and watch them cry. And yet, fish sticks aren’t quite the right message to send, either. These crab cakes in particular have the familiar patty shape and mild flavor, yet are so tender and crispy that it’s hard to associate them with any other crab cake you’ve probably had.
Very few people wake up in the morning with the desire to sink their teeth into a crab cake. And yet on this rainy morning, that’s exactly what I felt like doing. Crab cakes are a misnomer for these, though. Crab pies are more like it. The cake part of these, usually disguised by bread crumbs or filler, is completely eliminated. All these have are chunks of blue crab and mayonnaise, and some seasonings to make the buttery crab pop. Cooking these took about fifteen minutes in a hot pan with oil and butter. Moving or flipping these is a task better left to those trained in delicately cutting bomb wires or setting the Guinness World Record for most hairs split. Move too quickly and you’ll dislodge some of the crab meat. This accounts for the less-than-pornographic photographs shown. Unfortunately, this was the case for a few of our cakes, but it had a silver lining. With each broken crab cake came a slew of airy crispy-crunchies, leftover brown bits that had taken on a life of their own in the hot pan. Later, we added them on top of our cakes as little preludes of what was to come. And delicious preludes they were.
We ate our cakes with a side of homemade remoulade, though it was somewhat insulting to the dish after the first bite, and with the storm brewing outside, had a cup of the Maryland red crab soup that had been sent along with the package. Like the crab cakes, the soup had chunks of fresh blue crab meat floating around, and was mixed with an assortment of vegetables and a red, spiced broth. We found that the soup’s flavor was incredibly concentrated, and though we followed the preparation instructions to a T, noticed that the resulting soup was too thick and needed water. With a cup added to the broth, none of its flavor was diluted. It was exactly enough for each of us to have about a half cup’s worth as a taste. Not enough to eat alone, but perfect with the cakes.
The flavor of the broth wasn’t quite as crab-heavy as the cakes were. Understandable, but it just didn’t have that same emphasis on the crustacean and we were left feeling a little empty after the great crabby epiphany that had just occurred. The broth had pieces of crab, but was strongly flavored with Old Bay seasoning, a tasty counterpart but just not what we’d expected.
I can’t emphasize how perfect these are on their own, in the flesh. The size is just enough to work as a full meal for two. I’m half inclined to toss my epic holiday feasts and just mail-order all my favorite treats from the last few years for people to nosh on. Less is more…so, so, so much more here.