January 30, 2009

Don't wing it this Super Bowl

No doubt you've heard the fuss about the supposed chicken wing shortage coming just days before the Super Bowl. High prices and the United States' largest wing supplier's bankruptcy filing are threatening to destroy the great event by eroding the snack food-foundation upon which it rests!

... Or not. Reading past the headline of any of these reports clearly shows that while you might have to pay a few cents more for your wings this year, you won't have any trouble getting them. But the hysteria that nearly swept the nation was well founded nonetheless. We need our snacks for the Super Bowl.

Therefore I would like to suggest a few alternative foods. Even if the grocery store has wings, these foods should jolt you from a ho-hum same-as-last-year Super Bowl culinary experience into a new world of unhealthy enjoyment.

  • The Bacon Explosion. This roll of bacon and sausage looks like the greatest creation man hath ever wrought. I'm not sure whether to start my mouth watering or gag when I look at it, which means it must be a whole new level of unhealthelicious. This is as close as you'll get to a heart attack on a plate -- perfect for Super Bowl, the gluttonous event of all gluttonous events.
  • Bratwurst/Sausage. They give you more meat for less work than a chicken wing. You can even get a range of flavors if you're willing to try out a cheddarwurst or spicy sausage. Plus, they don't dirty fingers like those sticky, messy wings, meaning your guests won't leave red marks all over the sofa. They'd also be a great warm-up for a Bacon Explosion main course.
  • Ribs. If you must have some messy finger food, go with some barbecue spare ribs this year. Take all of those "wing shortage" stories in the media as an omen that you should eat another sticky finger food. If you miss the idea of dipping a spicy wing into blue cheese, go ahead and slather the buffalo sauce on the ribs and dunk away. Maybe you'll discover a new family recipe. Or maybe you'll wish you had made the Bacon Explosion.
  • Chips and dip. Turn the old stalwart into something special this year. Make some spinach and artichoke dip or whip up some homemade queso. Load up the chips and you won't even miss the meat ... until you smell the Bacon Explosion on the grill.
  • Or you could just go with pizza. But even if you throw some bacon and sausage on it, it's not going to be the Bacon Explosion. In fact, it's probably better to just skip the pizza this year unless you're going to roll it around a Bacon Explosion. That would one-up the overrated turducken. Take that, John Madden!
In case you didn't get my drift, make this year all about the Bacon Explosion. I don't want to get into the discussion about who invented it and when. What's more important is that it hit the big time (on the Internet, at least) this year, in time for the Super Bowl.

I can hardly wait to try a Bacon Explosion. Hopefully I'll even live long enough afterward to review it.

January 27, 2009

Fruity fun with Banana Teddy Grahams

Let's get the obvious joke out 0f the way: I've seen plenty of bananagrams in my time but never any Banana Teddy Grahams. There, now we can talk about the actual product without you peeling apart my words looking for places where I slipped in easy puns.

Give the folks at Nabisco credit for creativity -- bunching Teddy Grahams and bananas wouldn't have occurred to me in a million years. Even when you think about it the idea isn't a no-brainer. Yes, kids love Teddy Grahams, and yes, they love bananas. But kids also go ape for noodles and cookies, and nobody is rushing to sell "nookies" in the supermarket.

Whatever spawned the idea for Banana Teddy Grahams, their mere existence wasn't enough to convince me they would be tasty. Fruit does well in many pastries and pies, but it's track record is far from flawless. Try a fruitcake if you doubt that. I bit into my first Banana Teddy Graham expecting a consuming rush of fake banana flavoring.

The fake banana was there, all right, but it was merely hinted at instead of being pushed to the front of my taste buds. In that way the little Chiquitas imitate real life -- actual bananas have a naturally strong sweet flavor, but their unique taste slips into the background.

Where this new snack really shines is texture, however. Each individual Teddy Graham has little chewy chunks in it. I suppose this is the "real fruit" about which the box brags, as they could be dried banana pieces. They come off as a far-less-sweet version of toffee bits that combine a satisfying sense of gumminess with Teddy Grahams' always fulfilling crunch.

Despite my initial reservations, I have to award Banana Teddy Grahams a superior score of four and a half out of five sporks. Nabisco sure wasn't monkeying around with these!

January 25, 2009

Breaking news: Milkshakes are bad for you!

Men's Health recently named a milkshake their number one worst food in their "The 20 Worst Foods in America 2009" list. What a waste.

Without a doubt, milkshakes are bad for you. With even less of a doubt, the 2,600 calorie Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake that Men's Health picked is one of the worst milkshakes and, for that matter, foods out there. But there can't be many people who think milkshakes are good for you. Of those, it's a good bet none of them read Men's Health.

Most of us know we're hurting our bodies when we drink milkshakes. We still do it because all the physical harm is offset by spiritual benefits. While I haven't tasted the milkshake in question, if it soothes the soul, drinking it in moderation (as in once a year) isn't necessarily going to have a net unhealthy effect on you.

On the other hand the number one worst food should be something bad for the body that is also worthless to the spirit. A deep fried salad or triple-chocolate-chunk Brussels sprouts would make good candidates. Those would betray the eater by offering no tasting pleasure while still sabotaging your arteries.

Even something with a good taste and healthy reputation that is unexpectedly bad for you would be a better candidate for worst food -- like the 2,090 calorie Quizno's Tuna Melt Men's Health picked as the seventh worst food in the country. Subs have a reputation for being slightly healthier than other fast food and tuna is generally regarded as nutritious. Quizno's Tuna Melt, then, betrays our trust. Such treachery merits worst-food status far more than a milkshake that doesn't pretend to be healthy and whose only sin is that it is far worse for you than you expected.

Perhaps we'll get a more enlightening number one worst food next year from Men's Health, although I'm not hopeful since last year's number one was also a milkshake. Right now the list might be good enough for the pages of Men's Health, but it's not bringing this boy to their yard.

January 23, 2009

A twist on granola bars

Pretzels are good. Nuts are good. Chocolate is good. Granola bars are good. When you add them up, the result should be spectacular.

Hershey's must think it is. They've branded their pretzel-nut-chocolate-granola combination "Hershey's Sweet & Salty Granola Bar," and as you all no doubt know, the sweet and salty label is not something to be tossed around lightly. It raises the level of expectation for a product before you even bite into it. But Hershey's is not satisfied with the weighty implications of that label. No, Hershey's jacks up the bar even higher with a wrapper boasting "with pretzels." See it for yourself below on the picture from the grainy-but-mobile Rick's Food CritiqueCam.

Typically granola bars including pretzels wisely downplay them. Pretzels naturally soak up moisture and don't do particularly well after being pressed into a bar, shrink wrapped and stored for months on a shelf. They suck in liquids from their surrounding granola or chocolate, turning themselves into texturless masses. To keep them from ruining a product's overall composition, they are normally shattered into little crumbs.

Hershey's boisterous wrapper indicates this bar is different. It raises hopes that they figured something out to bolster their pretzels, letting them stick entire chunks in the bar.

It's wrong. Once again, you can't judge a granola bar by its cover. The Sweet & Salty Granola Bar is just your average mix of pretzel bits, nuts and granola compressed into a rectangular prism and coated with a layer of chocolate on the bottom. The pretzels are shredded into minuscule pieces that are too small to add any texture or flavor.

This bar normally might have qualified as a forgettable three-out-of-five-spork synonym for "average." With this pretzel fiasco thrown in, though, it drops down to two out of five sporks. It talks a big game about its pretzels then barely shows up to the gym with tiny pretzellette pieces.

Therefore I would like to issue a challenge to food scientists everywhere. Create a hard pretzel that will maintain its texture in granola bars and I will award you with your very own prestigious golden spork award. Such a pretzel would be infinitely more versatile than those currently in existence, improving our snack foods and our lives. Think of the satisfying crunch and salty flavor that could accompany Hershey's latest granola bar. The wrapper would no longer be telling a half truth by proclaiming "with pretzels."

This is one of the breakthroughs foodies have been waiting for -- right up there with cheap lobster tails on the McDonald's Dollar Menu. It is possible. All it needs is some dedication. Make something spectacular.

January 20, 2009

The Angry Whopper

I'm still miffed about missing out on my chance to get a free Whopper from Burger King, but I'm going to try to do something constructive with all that negative energy. The Angry Whopper gives me the perfect chance.

What better way to work out my own anger than to chomp down on what Burger King Commercials call "an onion, raised on anger"? My own rage can collided with that of the burger, resulting in some pretty strong opinions and, I hope, a fiery review. There is some danger that with all the fury involved, this review could tear the fabric of the universe and deep fry the world, so read with caution.

First of all, Burger King always seems to make me wait too long for my food. I had to stand for ten minutes before being served and there were only two people in front of me. Yes, they make the food to order, but they do it at the pace of a snail on morphine. There is no good reason I should be considering pitching a tent while waiting for two people to get their food, at least in a fast food restaurant.

Once the burger arrived, it wasn't too bad. I winced paying for the meal, which was $6.29 for a single-patty burger with accompanying drink and fries. But sitting down with the Angry Whopper wasn't a terrible thing. It's slathered with sweet and sour sauce, which is oddly paired with deep fried onions and jalapeno peppers. Yet the combination works. And Burger King's burgers do always taste a cut above those of McDonald's.

Still, I'm not happy that the best I can say about the Angry Whopper is that it wasn't too bad. It needs to be far spicier than it is. The jalapenos do spice things up, but those angry onions are a major disappointment. Instead of being hot and crisp, mine were soggy and tasteless -- they're irritated onions at best. This fancied-up whopper only merits three disappointingly bland sporks out of five. Obviously, truth in advertising does not live.

Not that that is a shocking revelation these days. All the recent spicy fare fast food joints have trumpeted has been disappointing. Remember Taco Bell's Volcano Taco? If you do, it's because it was pink, not because it was hot. The same holds true for the Angry Whopper.

Therefore I would like to issue an open challenge to any willing fast food restaurant. Make something spicy, and make it truly spicy. Back up those inevitable advertisements that show fire shooting out of someone's mouth with some actual habanero peppers and hot sauce or something. Jalapenos are good, but fast food needs to light a bigger fire in my belly.

January 18, 2009

The Whopper Sacrifice: The untimely end

It seems no good things come to those who wait. Those free lunches get gobbled up quickly.

I took a week to consider which ten of my Facebook friends to cut in order to get my free Whopper from Burger King using their Whopper Sacrifice application. When I sat down last night to make the cuts, I discovered that the promotion has been shut down.

As this New York Times article explains, Facebook didn't like the idea of Burger King notifying your sacrificed friends that they lost out to a hamburger and asked Burger King to change that feature. They said it disappointed users' privacy expectations, since you normally aren't notified when someone de-friends you. Rather than sacrifice the integrity of their promotion, Burger King chose to sacrifice the stunt itself.

Kudos to Burger King and egg on Facebook. The social-networking site's privacy claim is pretty dubious. It seems a lot more likely they were afraid their users' couldn't cope with a little stomach-driven rejection, or that they felt the promotion was against Facebook's spirit of compulsively collecting as many friends as possible. But at least Burger King held their moral ground.

Burger King wanted you to be upstanding about your disregard for having a profuse number of pals. You had to look your former friends in the digital eye with a message saying "I cast you aside to get a free Whopper" in order to get the burger. The passive-aggressive move of cutting them without their knowing will not be tolerated.

The downside of Burger King's moral high road is that those of us who waited and deliberated which Facebook friends to cut have been left without our free burgers. There's a moral to this story: When opportunity knocks, open the door quickly. I didn't and now I'll never be able to taste a Whopper that was paid for in bruised brotherhood.

This moral runs directly against my usual rule of waiting to adopt new things. Typically you can save money and get a more reliable product if you wait a few months to buy new technology after it comes out. You can make a better decision by sleeping on it. But I suppose I should have known better than to drag my feet on free food. When you come late to the table, your meal is going to be cold.

Now you might still be wondering which of my friends I was going to cut. Of the strategies I discussed last week, which of them was I going to employ?

I'll tell you. If you buy me a Whopper.

January 10, 2009

The Whopper Sacrifice: The beginning

Burger King is making a big splash on the web with its "Whopper Sacrifice" stunt on Facebook, where the company will give you a free Whopper if you de-friend ten Facebook friends. You install a Facebook application from www.whoppersacrifice.com, pick ten friends to kick to the curb and Burger King mails you a coupon for a free burger.

In the name of reviewing, I'm going to participate in the stunt and document it. Today I installed the application on my Facebook page and am currently contemplating which of my "friends" to cut. There are a few strategies I have to choose between, though.

First, I could pick ten of my best friends, cut them, get the coupon, and re-friend them. Since they're my best friends, they'll understand I'm only sacrificing them temporarily. They'll also know how important food is to me, and won't be offended. But there's always the chance that they'll see the message proclaiming they've been sacrificed for fast food, get angry, and never re-friend me. That's a pretty big downside, as I could actually lose some people who are pretty close to me.

Second, I could just pick ten of those people I never interact with on Facebook. You know the ones -- you friended them as a freshman in college the day you met them, saw them one other time, and now you're burdened with seeing their updates on your newsfeed all the time. You don't care about them and all they're doing is making it look like you know more people than you actually do. The downside to this strategy is that these people are the most likely to be offended when they see the message that they were sacrificed for a slab of ground meat, because they're least likely to understand how important food is to me. And since I use Facebook as a way to promote this blog, that might not be the best move for my role as a food critic, either.

Third, I could try to de-friend up as many "fake" Facebook friends as I could. A few years ago, when George Mason made a run in the NCAA basketball tournament, I befriended the Facebook account "George Mason." It's one of those clever little accounts that has a picture of a statue on the school's campus and contains snarky information that makes you snicker when you read it. Accounts like this are a good way to sacrifice "friends" guilt-free. The problem is that I've never been willing to befriend a lot of "unreal" people, and therefore would only be able to come up with three or four "fake" friends -- far short of my quota of ten.

Fourth, I could make friends with the sole purpose in mind of cutting them. Maybe I could start a Facebook group titled "I'll befriend you just to de-friend you so we can get free Whoppers." It's would be like Craigslist for free burgers. Of course, that seems like a lot of trouble when I have perfectly good friends of my own to sacrifice.

Fifth, I could scour Facebook for friends I care about moderately who rarely update their accounts. Chances are they wouldn't be offended at all, and wouldn't even notice if I chose to re-friend them in a couple of weeks. The downside is that will take even more time then setting up the Craigslist for free burgers.

So, my loyal readers, what do you think I should do? Let me know if you want to be sacrificed for a free Whopper or if you know someone I should kick off my friend list. I'm sure that, together, we can come up with a way to get a free lunch without destroying any real friendships.