November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

The scent of turkey is floating through the air, and many of you have probably already gobbled up your Thanksgiving dinner. But I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

It's the perfect holiday: all about food. And while it's not polite or advisable to review your relatives' cooking, remember to take a minute to sit back and actually savor the flavors. I like to balance the meaty tastes of turkey and gravy with the starch of potatoes before moving on to some bittersweet cranberry sauce to lighten things up. Then stuffing can be employed much like salt -- a dash here or there to mix things up.

But if you don't like to alternate bites, if you decimate the mashed potatoes before moving on to the turkey, just don't inhale it. Thanksgiving comes once a year, and all the food somehow tastes better on the holiday itself. Yum.

November 20, 2008

The horrors of Christmas creep

It's time to speak out against Christmas creep on television and in the grocery store. This year the commercial world was starting to shove carols and candy canes down our throats before the Halloween candy had even been sold. Every year, Christmas comes to retail way too early. And it has to stop. It's the 12 days of Christmas, not the 12 months.

I realize that by speaking out against Christmas creep before Black Friday -- the day I believe it becomes OK to get in the Holiday spirit -- I'm contributing to the very phenomenon I've decided to slay. But something has to be done, and I fear no one will care about the dangers if I wait until we pass the point where Christmas-related commerce is obviously acceptable.

We're in danger of losing Thanksgiving this year. The Price Chopper where I shop has a bigger Christmas section than it does Thanksgiving section. Think about that for a minute. Thanksgiving -- the holiday associated with eating, where grocery stores get to sell turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and potatoes and pie and all sorts of good things, is being consumed by Christmas, which is publicly associated with Santa Claus, presents, decorated trees and toy trains.

Now, you might say that there's plenty of eating at Christmas. Lots of people have a big dinner on Christmas with ham or turkey or goose and trim it with all the things I listed for Thanksgiving. You could even say Santa Claus likes Christmas cookies, so who can blame the grocery stores for hyping up all the Christmas food over the Thanksgiving meal.

But try this test. What is the first image that comes to mind when I say "Thanksgiving?" Turkey. What is the first image that comes to mind when I say "Christmas" or "Holiday Season?" It might be presents, snow or church, but I bet it isn't food.

There's something perverse about a grocery store pushing Christmas more than Thanksgiving. And I'm not anti-Christmas. I love the season as much as anyone -- just after Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, I'll be listening to some Christmas carols. I even like to leave the decorations up for months after Dec. 25, and believe taking them down before Boxing Day is akin to treason.

There are some other wonderful holidays and fall seasons we're missing in the rush to deck the halls. Oktoberfest shouldn't be held in front of a fully trimmed tree. Trick-or-treaters shouldn't be approaching houses with inflatable Santas on their porches. And the Thanksgiving table shouldn't be decorated with a Poinsettia.

Call me a Scrooge, but Christmas creep gets a resounding zero sporks out of five. Heck, I'll give it a Thanksgiving-esque two drumsticks down, too.

November 8, 2008

Guest Review: KFC Guitar Hero World Tour Box

The following review was submitted by William Reinier, a good friend of mine and new correspondent to Rick's Food Critique. William, pictured at left, writes from Stillwater, Okla. where he attends Oklahoma State University.

As a big guy, I know a thing or two about food, and after sitting on the couch watching television I saw a commercial for the new Guitar Hero World Tour Box at KFC. And for just $6.99 this seemed like too good of a deal to pass up.

The only logical thing to do was to get in my minivan and drive to my local KFC, as it was near lunchtime and the box seemed like a good idea. There was only one thing that I forgot to realize: While this seemed like a great deal, it was still food from KFC.

It began harmlessly enough. A very cordial man greeted me as I walked in and I could tell that the boredom was overcoming him -- the only other people in the restaurant were an old couple (we're talking AARP-old) and the other employees.

"I'll have the Guitar Hero Box, please."

This is what ensued:

"Would you like BBQ or Original Recipe strips?"

"Would you like a BBQ or Original Recipe Snacker?"

"Would you like a drumstick or a thigh? Original or extra crispy?"

"What two sides would you like?"

"What would you like to drink?"

"Is this for here or to-go?"

"Do you need any sauce?

When I finally got my food, I felt mentally exhausted. But I was ready to dig in.

I sat down and looked in my box, eager to begin. I took out the baked beans (one of my sides) and was very pleasantly surprised by the results. In the South, the ability to prepare baked beans is a commodity, and KFC did not disappoint. I picked up one of my strips and began to eat the bulk of the meal.

As I continued through my potato wedges and the KFC Snacker, I could feel myself starting to wear down. There is a special sauce that goes on the sandwich which is only made worse by old lettuce. It should be no surprise that food never looks as good as the television makes it look, so I wasn't very let down there.

The real disappointment came with the chicken leg. There were a few tip-offs that it was going to be bad. First of all, the server gave me two legs in an obvious attempt to get rid of them, because there was, in my mind, no telling how old they were. At first bite, I thought it was especially juicy, until I realized that it was especially greasy. I was forced to blot my half-eaten chicken with a napkin much like one would blot a pizza. I didn't know how I was going to get through this one, let alone the second. Luckily, I was able to muster enough will to get through.

Finally, it was time for the biscuit. This is easily the most underrated part of any KFC meal, and was maybe the best. I attempted to put some of the prepackaged butter on it when I noticed that it was not butter, but in fact a "Buttery Spread," as labeled on the packet, so I ate it dry. Fortunately, the meal also came with a 32 oz. drink with a game piece to win Guitar Hero prizes.

The food was decent, but KFC continues to dumb down chicken and take away what makes it so good. The only way to do chicken right would be to find a way to cook it fresh. It would also decrease the amount that is thrown out at night or recycled to the next day.

Sadly, I will probably go back and get another Guitar Hero Box.

Using Rick's patented system, I'm going to give it three and a half sporks out of five, based mainly on quantity rather than quality.