March 1, 2016

Lay's Flavor Swap proves new isn't always better

There can be only four winners.
OK, foodies, you've had enough time to try Lay's slate of four new flavors under its "Flavor Swap" fresh-chip-versus-existing-chip competition.

Now it's time for me to weigh in. The timing of this isn't as easy as it sounds, you know. You need time to try the chips and make up your mind in case you want independence from my editorials. But I want to get my thoughts out there before voting closes March 21.

This time around, my thoughts aren't just informed by my palate. The official wife of Rick's Food Critique (who used to be the official fiance of Rick's Food Critique, who used to be the official girlfriend of Rick's Food Critique) sampled the slate of chips to offer an additional perspective. Perhaps surprisingly, we agreed more than we disagreed.

If there's one theme to this Flavor Swap, it's that new is not always better. Now without further ado, here's the full rundown.

Heat Flavor Swap: Lay’s Flamin’ Hot vs. new Lay’s Fiery Roasted Habanero
Theme or no theme, new ends up being much better here. Neither of us were sure how Flamin' Hot has made it as a Lay's flavor, owing to its monotone heat, bitter aftertaste and satanic neon red color. Fiery Roasted Habanero was a little less hot but compensated with a nice, sweet habanero tone.

Cheese Flavor Swap: Lay’s Cheddar & Sour Cream vs. new Lay’s Smoked Gouda & Chive
The stalwart wins here, as it's virtually impossible to beat sour cream and cheddar. The challenger chip wouldn't have been too bad if not for an overpowering smoke drowning out everything else. With the smoke cloud looming over the chip, the Gouda could have been any cheese.

Barbecue Flavor Swap: Lay’s Honey Barbecue vs. new Lay’s Korean Barbecue
My wife and I split on this one. I preferred the Korean Barbecue owing to its semblance to pork belly, while she found more soy sauce than Seoul. Neither of us thought it too accessible as a flavor. On the Honey Barbecue side, we both thought it a generic, mild chip with some sweetness. She just ranked them differently than I did. But we both agreed it was a close call.

Spice Flavor Swap: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper vs. new Lay’s Kettle Cooked Olive Oil & Herbs
Olive oil wins big here. It makes the chips heavier in grease while still adding some lighter tones, and it pairs nicely with a blast of oregano and thyme. Just don't look for basil, because you won't find it. You won't find much of note in the Sea Salt and Pepper chip bag, either. They're fine, but they basically taste like regular potato chips with an unevenly distributed blast of seasoning that comes out every chip or two.

February 7, 2016

Super Bowl pork-off

It's no secret I love to look into Super Bowl food.

In past years I've pitted Dunkin' Donuts' coffee against Starbucks', cooked special soup, and cooked foods from each participating teams' host city. In fact, for the last several years my wife and I have made an effort to try a new recipe representing each Super Bowl participant — clam chowder for New England and Seattle dogs for the Seahawks last year, for example. I just haven't always written about those cooking adventures.

That changes this year with a great combination of recipes representing the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. In the Panthers' corner we have Carolina barbecue boneless ribs, following a recipe from, the official website of the National Pork Board (yes, this really exists). In the Broncos' corner we have a Denver green chile recipe from the Denver Post

That's right. It's a good old-fashioned battle of the other white meat. A pork-off, if you will.

Both I and the official wife of Rick's Food Critique prepared different parts of the dishes (although she ended up doing more of the work and therefore deserves more of the credit). Then we sat down to try them out before the Super Bowl. Here are the results. We'll see if they predict the outcome of the game.

Let's first start with the Carolina barbecue ribs. They weren't much to look at because we adapted the recipe from grilling to slow-roasting, but boy were they tender. They also came with a nice tangy zing owing to the combination of molasses, apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper in the sauce recipe.

Boneless pork ribs aren't much to look at without grill marks, but the flavor is what matters.
Truth be told, I'd probably like a little more cayenne in these, though. They were hot but begging for just a little more punch. The sauce was also pretty watery, while I prefer a stickier barbecue sauce. In the future I might experiment with reducing it and adding some starch to try to bring out a bit more body.

Also waterier than expected was the Denver green chile. But that wasn't its only surprise. It proved to come out of the pot more red than green.

Despite the color, this really is Denver green chile.
Despite any color and consistency concerns, the green chile proved to be outstanding. The heat is there thanks to the five jalapenos. The pork is tender and flavorful thanks to a long simmering time and previous browning with garlic and onions. We tried it both alone and with rice to sop up some of the juice, and it was great both ways.

As good as our Carolina barbecue was, the green chile was exceptional enough to blow most foods out of the water. Four sporks for the barbecue and five out of five for the chile.

I guess that leaves Denver fans hoping my taste buds have predictive value and Carolina fans hoping I have no culinary crystal ball. Either way, enjoy the game!

February 6, 2016

Lay's Flavor Swap starts Monday

This box contains eight tiny bags of potato chips.
Do you have a favorite Lay's potato chip flavor? It might be on the chopping block.

Lay's is trying out four new flavors. But it's pitting them against four existing flavors in high-stakes elimination contests. And it's requiring you, the chip-eating public, to vote on what stays and what goes.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it draws heavily on the "Do Us a Flavor" contests Lay's has run in years past. Loyal readers will no doubt recall Chicken and Waffle Potato Chips as a high point in that recurring competition, which had Lay's putting four new flavors up against each other in public votes.

This time around, eaters will be voting for winners in four different chip pairings in something called a "Flavor Swap." Each pairing includes an existing chip and one supposedly chosen from flavor trends. Here's the lineup:

Heat Flavor Swap: Lay’s Flamin’ Hot vs. new Lay’s Fiery Roasted Habanero
Cheese Flavor Swap: Lay’s Cheddar & Sour Cream vs. new Lay’s Smoked Gouda & Chive Barbecue Flavor Swap: Lay’s Honey Barbecue vs. new Lay’s Korean Barbecue
Spice Flavor Swap: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper vs. new Lay’s Kettle Cooked Olive Oil & Herbs

Lay's says voters will "help decide" which flavors stick around, so something tells me the classic Cheddar & Sour Cream could be staying no matter what voters say. But there are some interesting new flavors on the list worth trying. Korean Barbecue and Fiery Roasted Habanero caught my eye in particular.

Voting starts Monday and runs through March 21. The chips should be on store shelves by the time the polls open.

The good folks at Lay's were nice enough to send me a box of the different flavors early. I'll be doing reviews of each for the start of voting.

January 31, 2016

It's just a little late for Candy Cane Peeps

Listen, peeps, I know what you're about to say regarding Candy Cane Peeps.

It's almost February, a time of valentine candy and hearty Super Bowl foods. We want Russell Stover and Buffalo wing dip, Hershey's Kisses and potato chips. We do not want your leftover Christmas candy.

To which I say I'm still eating through my Christmas Candy. And these Peeps are interestig enough that they're worth a few belated words.

Plus, with Valentine's Day Peeps hitting store shelves (I've seen pink Peeps on a stick this year), it's important to remember that all marshmallow chicks share a certain ... heritage. The same sugary goo fills their chicken-like shapes. The same beady little Peep eyes peer out at us accusingly from the cellophane before we rip in and gobble them up. So any review of Christmas Peeps is going to matter if you're considering a valentine version for your significant other on Feb. 14.

So here's the retrospective rundown: Candy Cane Peeps were not Peeps with a crunchy candy cane shell. They were Peeps with a little bit of peppermint sprinkled into their granulated sugar coating.

They also came in packaging stamped with Minions, those adorable little yellow puffs from the Despicable Me series! While I've never sat through an entire Despicable Me movie, I can tell you that Minions have provided me with endless seconds of entertainment in their various appearances on television commercials. Minions and Peeps seem the perfect combination!

Not that the Minions have any impact on the Candy Cane Peep flavor. Basically, you bite in, get a burst of mint, then finish with the standard spongy sweetness you've come to know and love over the years. Oh, Peeps! You're the only childhood food that can be confused with spray foam insulation!

Now I hear you asking: What does all this rambling mean for you today? What do Minions and Candy Cane Peeps have to do with life in the new year?

Basically, stay away from Peeps for your sweet on Valentine's Day unless they have an insane attachment to childhood (like I do). Without the nostalgia factor, these things would be brutal, no mater what flavors mint or otherwise you use to dress them up.

Minions, on the other hand, are a great accompaniment for any occasion. If you can find a Minion Valentine, go for it.

As for a spork rating, Candy Cane Peeps get three out of five. They were intriguing, but  even I have to admit they lack staying power.