FritoLay Yakitori Corn Snack Two Flavors (Negima & Tare)

Grilling season is almost over, at least for me. Luckily, I have some tasty treats to tide me over when steak frites and ice cream no longer pushes my buttons. J-List sent over a whole mess of treats for me to nosh on in Gay Paree. I had to crack a few open before my departure, though, and was very curious about this Yakitori snack. And yes, it is called FritoLay Yakitori Corn Snack Two Flavors (Negima & Tare) and contains two shapes and flavors of corn chips, similar in texture to Jax with a rough, airy interior. The combination of the two flavors is supposed to mimic the overall sensation of eating Yakitori, Japanese teriyaki-grilled chicken.

The two types of chips couldn’t have been more different. The negima chip, hollow and tubular with a bulky shape, had a sweet and smoky flavor with coffee, caramel, and a corn and butter flavor with a forward wasabi aftertaste. I thought it would be fun to eat first and get information about what these were after trying them out. Apparently the negi is a Japanese long onion, native to the country, with a sweeter and lighter flavor than our green onion equivalents back home. It was really unique and varied with a curious set of spices and I loved its interpretation in chip form. I imagine the real thing would be delicious as well!

The football-shaped chips were not hollow, and seemed to have a softer crunch than the negima chips. These were sweet and savory, with a soy sauce and garlic flavor and corn base. I enjoyed them enough, and after discovering they mimicked the soy-based condiment atop the chicken, found them aptly flavored. Did the chips taste like yakitori when eaten together? I couldn’t tell you, as they were impossible to fit in my mouth together. The negima chips were simply too large eat in one bite and too messy to cleave in half. These were fantastic chips, though, and were clearly conceived very carefully with a remarkable attention to detail. Definitely something I’d seek out in other flavors and they kicked the ass of our “twofer” chips. Go home, buffalo and blue cheese!

Brisket with gruyere polenta, roasted tomatoes, and heirloom eggplant tapenade.

Secret confession, secret private internet diary! I use vegetables as props. Yes, I’ve found a way, in my immense hatred of all things fibrous and green, to become the antithesis of composting and recycling. I buy vegetables and photograph them because hot sauce and bread gets old after a while. And then, I throw them away. Because I hate vegetables.

That being said, it’s an incredible feat of willpower to go to a cute, adorable Farmer’s Market in the middle of an abandoned ghost town in upstate New York after taking a break from poking around thrift stores with your color-coordinated girlfriend and not come home with some quirky phallic vegetables to brag about. And photograph. We sampled goat cheese and looked at the last of the day’s offerings, and eventually forked over a fiver for these fucking adorable Indian eggplants and baby heirloom tomatoes.
I hope these don’t taste like eggplants, I remember thinking, conflicting emotions swirling around in my head paralleling the grabby hippies wandering around the onions. Really, though, how could I not buy them? They’re not like their bulbous, bruise-colored siblings. They’re not enormous. They’re little. And they have stripes. Something tells me I’ll be dealing with this issue many more times in the future. After a brief session compartmentalizing my priorities regarding vegetables, I bought a pound of these guys to use in something, although at the time I had no idea. I wanted a sandwich. Miss Love wanted pasta because she always wants pasta. We settled on polenta and drove home, the remnants of a successful gay date in the back of our Not-Subaru.
Needless to say, the results were…okay. It was the end product of wishful thinking and a desire to cover up the vegetables with better flavors. Pray the veg away, so to speak. I piled brisket on top. I made a bacon fat, onion, gruyere and rosemary polenta that knocked my socks off. And to be fair, the roasted tomatoes were delicious in the polenta, a sort of reverse pasta and sauce dish, but the eggplants were pretty mediocre. I’m trying to be judicious and open my mind! Really! I accidentally ate an eraser shaped like a cartoon carrot the other day. I’m so open-minded!

Brisket with gruyere polenta, roasted tomatoes, and heirloom eggplant tapenade
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 cup of baby tomatoes, cut in half.
1 cup of eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of shredded brisket
4 3/4 cups of water
1 cup of dried polenta
1 cup of shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 teaspoon of rosemary
1 tablespoon of bacon fat
1 teaspoon of softened butter

1. Preheat the oven to broil. Chop your tomatoes and eggplant and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread on baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until soft.

2. Warm your brisket in a small skillet or in the microwave and start boiling your water. When it’s bubbling, mix in the rosemary and pepper, and when it starts to boil, pour in the polenta and lower the heat to medium low. Stir the polenta until thickened, about 5-7 minutes.

3. Once the polenta is thick, pour in the gruyere and mix thoroughly. Remove the polenta from the heat and mix in the butter and bacon fat, which will help the mixture thicken together.

4. To serve, mix the polenta and tomatoes together and plate in the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the brisket, then the eggplant on top. Serve hot with a garnish of fresh tomato.

Betty Crocker Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mix

Meta meta meta meta. Oh, god, it was only a matter of time before corporations started running out of ideas and just started mashing their already-successful, already-existing ones together. Which is totally freaking sweet. In the great wide world of Famous Things People Love, like Reese’s and muffins, foods are haphazardly combined in what we now call “breakfast,” but can really mean “any food you decide to cram into your sleep-riddled, slack-jawed maw before 11AM or whenever mom bangs on the door.” Joyous day! So yeah, these exist for me to write about. I’m like a less shocking Triumph, y’see?

These just beg to be judged. From the enthusiastically branded box packaging to the shoddily tacked-on “don’t eat raw muffin batter” on the back of the package, these are a fat kid’s wet dream. The batter is shockingly close to an actual Reese’s, albeit with a gloopier texture and oilier aftertaste. It has an aggressive salty bite and heavy nut-based flavor, with the milkiness of chocolate taking a backseat.

The wheaty, glutenous flavor even rendered it one rung on the incestuous General Mills family tree closer to its namesake, Reese’s Puffs. It was impressive and heightened the anticipation of the end product. The streusel topping, initially chemical in flavor, had a strangely synthetic crunch to it, in a “Fun with Dental Surgery” kind of way. After (illegally?) tasting the batter, we were excited for the end product.

Apparently, this went through some Krazy Khemical Khanges while baking in the oven. Odors of microwaved popcorn, cardboard, and butter wafted through the kitchen, but not a single hint of muffin was to be smelled. Visually, they were stunning out of the oven, emerging nearly identical to their Photoshop enhanced counterparts. Unfortunately, they tasted worse than Reese’s knock-offs– bland, pasty, and inexplicably tough. All the flavor from the batter was gone. Without the strudel’s molasses-tinged magic, it was a cardboard-infused weak chocolate flavor with an inexplicable glutenous texture.
These were improvable, but only with the luxurious lubrication of butter and Nutella, essentially turning them back into the candy they’d sought to leave behind. Okay, whatever, so give me an instance where turning your breakfast into a snack cake doesn’t improve it. (ed. note: see Grits v. Timmy, 2007) These clearly weren’t meant for ingestion. Try using them as instant implants. Or wheels. Or perhaps you haven’t been out of the house since 1952 and want to try that new-fangled greasy legume-paste cakes the kids are yapping about. Just don’t get them to eat.

Alobar, Long Island City, NY

I rarely have many reasons to be in Queens. That is, until now. But if I’m ever in the mood for delicious, clever punk rock food, I’m pleased that a short travel six minutes on the 7 train out of Manhattan and walk a few blocks up is all that it takes. Alobar, a pork ‘n’ pub restaurant taking Long Island City by storm, invited Dillinger and me to check out their food and impressive cocktails, too.

¬†Miss Love took a look at this menu and proclaimed it was “guy food,” so I immediately decided that I would take Dillinger on a guy date. While the menu’s battered bacon add-ons and barbecued pig tails may look intimidating, there are quite a few delicate starter selections for the feminine palate, should your lady (or fastidious gentleman!) not have an immediate desire to gnaw on maple-cured ribs. That being said, I would have liked to see the freshness of their appetizers trickle into the entrees. I think that with their ingenuity, they can transform dishes for a lighter palate without sacrificing their views and values.
However, on the appetizer front, I don’t think anyone would pass up Alobar’s selection of housemade pickles. We sampled the thick tarragon carrot pickles, briny and robust with mustard seed and a little coriander for a sour, sweet Asian flair. And for your $4, you get a ton of carrots.

Also on the menu as a light, but tasty treat, is a clever twist on a bar favorite. A giant bowl of truffled maple-bacon popcorn, served hot and drizzled with sauce, was the unanimous appetizer favorite. The bacon, served in more hunks than pieces, covered the bottom of the bowl and most of the top of the popcorn as well. Glistening with truffle oil and maple, it was a crispy and sweet treat, although very gooey and impossible not to eat with a fork. Believe me, if you felt awkward eating pizza with a fork and knife before, try doing the same with popcorn.

But the main reason why we were here was for these prehistoric looking puppies. Pig tails! And no, they’re not curly or pink. I can best describe pig tails as a hybrid of the best bar wings you’ve ever had and fatty pork belly. Combining the silky, unctuous fat of the belly with the flavor of roasted dark chicken-like meat, all slathered in a sweet apple barbecue sauce, it’s a delicious snack with a gamey tang and a tempura flavor from frying. They’re fairly large, too, and have a “jointed” structure to better retrieve meat from, but the pieces are proportionately similar to wings, as well. A little effort goes a long way!

As for drinks, we started out with two very seasonally-inspired cocktails, the smoked peach with mezcal, tequila, peach nectar, jalapenos, and honey, and the cactus cooler, with passionfruit, vodka, cactus fruit, and lime juice. Both were refreshing and tinted with a sweetness that blended well with each respective liquor. I would have liked for the peach to have a little more heat and even an extra splash of color from fresh jalapeno! The cactus cooler didn’t particularly taste like cactus, but it had a great, fruity flavor.

Our entrees couldn’t have been more different, but we agreed on one thing: they were crazy good. As soon as I saw Kentucky-fried rabbit on the menu, it was all that I could think about. And with red-eye gravy, hash browns, and bacon-braised cabbage? Sign me up, no questions asked. The rabbit was crispy and crunchy, with a thick, flaky crust and a tender texture. It was similar in texture and color to a chicken breast, with a stronger, sweeter natural flavor and juicier center. I absolutely loved it. With the colorful purple cabbage, studded with some soft chunks of bacon like the popcorn from before, it was the perfect savory and sour combination. The hash browns and gravy were unfortunately less impressive, the former simple and underseasoned, and the latter drizzled on as an afterthought, a bummer as I was looking forward to the interplay of coffee and bacon with Southern specialties.

Dillinger went for the most massive burger I’ve ever seen, made even more gargantuan with two thick slices of battered, deep-fried bacon. Now, understand this: Dillinger is my go-to adventure friend for multiple reasons, one of which being that he is very, very tall and big. Seeing him put down the burger halfway through and push his plate away was like seeing a UFO. It just doesn’t happen! My point is, this burger kicked our collective asses. Covered in the aforementioned bacon, smoked onions, butter lettuce, and served with fresh fries, it was absolutely delicious and so savory. The salted frites on the side were the perfect crispy accompaniment to such a bold sandwich.

With our entrees, we shared two more cocktails. Dillinger’s was a basil and blackberry cocktail with vermouth and lime juice.While the freshness of the ingredients was abundantly apparent, the seeds from the muddled berries made this impossible to drink from the provided straw. The flavor was perfectly balanced and pleasantly sweet. My cocktail was another stunner- a special house bacon-infused bourbon whip with orange and egg whites. Really deep and delicious, with a heavy clove and cinnamon flavor like liquified Christmas and a sweet, frothy top. I was surprised that the bacon flavor was so light and airy on the palate. It was definitely a unique drink.

And yes, we had to do dessert. A fluffernutter inspired treat was a no-brainer, with homemade fudge sauce, peanut butter sauce, marshmallow fluff, and thick griddled pieces of white bread. Everything came together exactly as it should have. While the buttery bread may have been a little rich with the sweetness of the three sauces, each piece was just soaked with flavor and the hint of salinity balanced out the dish impeccably.
We also shared a few after-dinner drinks, a hot apple brandy drink, super strong and hot with intense black tea and honey flavors, and a glass of Churchill’s port. Both perfectly complimented our desserts, including this stunner, the salted caramel bread pudding. The dark spots you see on top (as the Queens sun was quickly fading) are part chocolate chunks, softened by the hot pudding, and a crisp, crunchy brulee of sugar. The caramel notes were subtle, but enhanced by the other ingredients as well as the pool of sauce at the bottom. A dessert unfettered by whipped cream or gelato, this was simple, well-prepared, and delightful to eat. Not unlike its creator, Alobar itself. I think the rough-hewn atmosphere of the restaurant is fun and clever, and that they have a lot of potential in the space they’re in and with their dishes.Thanks again to the Alobar staff and team, especially our kind, prompt server, and to Alobar’s PR team for facilitating our write-up. It was truly a wonderful evening.

Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tacos

Because I’ve focused mainly on specialty food and restaurant reviews, I’m always getting asshatted comments on my fast food posts that start with “snob” and end with “mother’s basement.” The truth is, they’re very different ends of the same tasty spectrum. And I can honestly say that I enjoy them both equally. The middle end of that spectrum is a dead zone, though. It’s the abandoned frozen foods and mediocre snacks that I’m also compelled to write about, though with less than satisfactory results.

Miss Love and I are not teenagers, nor are we men, so it’s unlikely for us to keep around appetizer and snack foods to graze on throughout the day. When I’m at my parents’ place, though, there’s always something fun around to try that we wouldn’t normally purchase back home. We found these mini chicken tacos from Trader Joe’s and thought they’d be tasty enough.

For all the ease of Trader Joe’s products, these are atypically annoying and labor-intensive to make. There are three different ways to make these, though the one with the coveted “best results” award is the deep-fry method. Four tacos is 190 calories. The ingredient list is roughly the length of a Tolstoy novel and the tacos were soft and salty-smelling out of the box. Kind of a far cry from my shredded chicken and tomatillo salsa tacos, but whatevs. The instructions said to fry these at 350 degrees for 1-2 minutes, but after 3 minutes, the tortillas were still soft and squishy. These finished cooking after 8 minutes. I flipped them once and drained them.

These are awkward with a side of awkward turtle to prepare. Sr. Jose recommends splitting these open and cramming them with toppings, which strikes me as counterproductive. They’re also molten hot and spewing oil all over the place after being drained in an oak’s worth of paper towels. Why bother going through the process of deep-frying what basically amounts to tortilla chips and chicken paste if you’re just going to put condiments all over it? It feels like a waste of calories and time. Unfortunately, the technique makes sense. These are pretty flavorless. Predominantly oil and corn, with a half teaspoon of uniformly textured, salty and cumin-heavy filling. No tomatillo tang. No cheesy goo. Just salt and oil.
So I split them and put in some sour cream and habanero gold jelly, one of my absolute favorite condiments. It’s a habanero and apricot spread that I love to use with savory foods. And lo and behold, the tacos tasted like sour cream and pepper jelly. Surprise surprise. If you’re looking for a greasy vehicle for condiments and want to feel like you’re doing more than just slapping nachos in the microwave, maybe these are right for you. As for me, I can eat better things with more flavor. These just missed the mark.

Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote

We don’t have a TV. Trust me, it’s better off that way. It’s a dangerous habit to ease into the swelling waters of bayou billionaires and extravagant birthday parties. There are a few shows I love the concepts of, though, like Chopped. It’s fun to think of what a random combination of ingredients could be incorporated into a dish and how the flavors could come out in any number of ways. I did my own miniature version of Chopped the other night, using some fun ingredients I’ve received over the last few weeks. Without further ado, here are my Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote.

I came up with this idea in part in homage to a classic Connecticut treat, steamed burgers, and also as a result of having some spectacular spicy ingredients around the house. I received some spice-infused salts in the mail from The Spice Lab a few weeks ago, and picked up some fantastic Cypress Grove peppered goat cheese and parchment bags from PaperChef at the Fancy Food Show that I’d been dying to use. These sliders are small, but they’re packed with flavor and are moist and tender from steaming in the oven.

Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote
Ingredients (makes 8 sliders)
8 slider rolls
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 pimento pepper, minced
1 habanero pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt (smoked jalapeno salt found here)
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 round of goat cheese, approximately two ounces

1. Chop and prepare your ingredients. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the salt, sliced onion, and half of the peppers together. Toss with oil.

2.  Mix the remaining peppers into the ground turkey and shape into eight small sliders, roughly 1/8th of a pound apiece.

3. Layer the onions and peppers on the bottom of the parchment bag in a single layer, evenly distributing the ingredients. Place the patties on top with a blob of goat cheese and seal the bag tightly, crimping the edges over twice to ensure that it doesn’t open while cooking.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let the burgers cool for five minutes, and open the bag from the top. Spoon burgers and onions onto buns and devour!

We served these with a cantaloupe basil agua fresca, a drink we’ve enjoyed before. It was a really refreshing treat and definitely quenched the heat these baby burgers brought! Even if the ghetto three-hour fresca drip and Death Star melon husk (pictured below) didn’t quite work out.

I’m excited to experiment with parchment bags more. Have you tried out any other interesting recipes with these? I want to go past the ubiquitous steamed salmon and asparagus. What else do you think would be fun to steam in the oven?