July 27, 2009

Green tea frozen yogurt? Yogen Früz says yes!

Let me admit I had a hard time with this review. Self-proclaimed food critics are rarely at a loss for words, but I had a rough time coming up with a description for Yogen Früz's matcha green tea frozen yogurt.

A definition of Yogen Früz isn't quite as hard. It is a frozen yogurt chain originating in Toronto that fancies itself a "health experience." You can choose from all sorts of tasty-looking fruits to blend into a creamy mix with frozen yogurt for a supposedly healthy eating experience.

Think the frozen treat fresh fruit version of Vitamin Water -- Steve Nash isn't there to stuff a second banana into every cup, but it's the next closest thing.

The fruit, which sits diced in little bins at the Yogen Früz counter, looks almost too good to be real. It has a shiny juicy-looking sheen to it that makes you want nothing more than to munch on a little cube of pineapple or mango or kiwi. Each order is blended in front of your eyes with your choice of fruit.

All that fruit wasn't what I went for, though. No, I was hooked by the green tea blended yogurt. I've seen mint flavored ice cream and neon green flavored sherbet, but this is the first time I've ever seen a frozen treat that tastes like green tea. As a big green tea fan, I couldn't resist that.

I probably won't be resisting it much when I see it in the future, either. The two flavors of frozen yogurt and green tea are such a bizarre amalgamation that they actually work.

The taste skews a little closer to vanilla frozen yogurt than matcha, although the green tea tones are definitely there. No one who drinks green tea and knows its hallmark light flavor will be surprised by that, though.

What's astonishing is the texture. It's also where this frozen blend really shines. I don't know if ground up tea leaves or something else causes it, but every spoonful manages to maintain creamy frozen yogertuness while also being rough.

Rough isn't quite the right word -- it's more like grainy. Not rabbit ears ma-I-can't-see-my-Saturday-morning-cartoons bad grainy. A good kind of grainy.

I know it's not the easiest description to wrap your tongue around. Yet grainy is the closest word my stretched mind can find.

So Yogen Früz matcha green tea frozen yogurt is deliciously grainy. Eating it is a totally unique sensory experience. Try it if you see it.

Now that we've run ragged over connotations in the English language, there's only one thing left to do -- rate this frozen yogurt at five sporks out of five.

July 24, 2009

Furlough Friday: McDonald's Dollar Drinks

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, eaters and unemployed: It's time for Furlough Friday, the biweekly feature that keeps you at the restaurant, ballin' for a buck or less. Live from Pennsylvania, it's Furlough Friday!

Tap water sure can get boring.

When you're trying to save money drinking good old city water is a sure way to keep your wallet padded. But all that H2O can leave your tongue screaming for a little more liquid flavor every once in awhile.

Enter a McDonald's promotion you may have heard about: The dollar drinks. This summer the golden arches is letting you pick up a drink of any size for just $1. (I've heard reports this deal varies from restaurant to restaurant and sometimes limits you to iced tea or imposes other such sanctions, but I've yet to find a franchise that actually restricts it.)

It's a deal that's good enough to force me to string posts on McDonald's back-to-back. Actually, it's going a step further and making me post consecutively on McDonald's drinks. For a food critic who prides himself on sampling a wide variety of the vast fast food world, this is a big deal.

It would be a bigger deal if McDonald's had a more interesting drink selection. They have your typical Coca-Cola sodas along with some Powerade and the bane of my existence, Light Lemonade. But I can't complain too much when I'm getting to fill a cup the size of my head with something other than water for $1.

And best of all, this promotion isn't limited to Mondays. So you can bookend your week with McDonald's deals. Free mocha on Monday, dollar drinks on Friday.

Mondays and Fridays that mean something -- it's enough to make you think you're working!

July 21, 2009

Mondays mean more McDonald's free mocha

Ronald McDonald was apparently not content with his first round of free mocha giveaways on Mondays this spring. He's brought back the promotion through August 3.

Always wanting to give free stuff a second chance, I decided to revisit the McCafe creation to see if my previous scathingly sugary review was off base. Only this time I decided to size up the more seasonally appropriate iced mocha.

Only it was more like sizing the down the iced mocha. My immediate impression had nothing to do with its taste. The free iced mochas are 7 oz. cups, a full ounce less than the free hot mochas. Since they lose girth because they're plastic instead of foam, they look downright microscopic.

I wish my camera could have captured the size of the cup in reference to something, because it was barely big enough to pick up without tweezers. I felt like a the Incredible Hulk walking his toy poodle as I carried the dinky drink out of the golden arches.

Size wouldn't normally be a valid complaint since we're talking about something that's free. But McDonald's would be wise to increase the size of its free iced mocha to give potential customers an actual taste of the drink. With the ice in there you barely get four sips of coffee.

Plus, I don't quite understand the rationale for iced coffee that's smaller than its warm counterpart. Are refrigeration expenses that much higher than heating costs? Is the price of ice, which fills a substantial portion of the cold mocha, that much steeper than that of coffee, which fills a substantial portion of the hot one?

Portions aside, McDonald's iced mocha is far superior to its warm brother. Cold typically mutes flavors, a blessing in McCafe's overly sweet and sometimes poorly mixed lineup. None of the sips come off sickeningly sweet or breathtakingly bitter like they do in the hot mocha.

In fact, the flavors were blended much better than in the hot drink, making the iced mocha the clear winner of the family. Some of the feedback I've received has indicated the quality of McDonald's mocha blending is largely dependent on branch location, who makes the drink, the time of day and the spot in the lunar cycle, so this is by no means a comprehensive observation. Still, it's worth noting that my iced mocha was far more uniform than my hot one.

So McDonald's iced mocha earns three and a half sporks out of five. How about that -- the smaller drink snatched a bigger score.

July 18, 2009

Wendy's Sweet and Spicy Asian Boneless Wings

My apologies for the long period between reviews. The doldrums of July have seized even your intrepid food critic, who is having a hard time believing it's already been more than a week since Furlough Friday. As lazy summer drifts along it's easy to let your duties slip.

What I needed was something to zap me back into action. Something with a little zest that would wake me up. Some spice to match the heat of the weather. Of course I looked to Wendy's.

Not only does Wendy's have the hot lil' Spicy Chicken Sandwich, the chain is parading its Sweet and Spicy Asian Boneless Wings throughout the telosphere. Perfect.

At least perfect in concept. In execution the wings fall a little short of five-spork territory.

Actually, execution was a big part of my qualms with the chicken. It tasted good, with a surprisingly balanced blend of the advertised sweet and spiciness, although it was a little heavy on salt. The wings aren't going to set your tongue on fire, but it's a decent amount of heat for a mainstream fast food joint.

The problem is that I could watch the worker fill my order. And the preparation wasn't too fancy. Basically she took some fried tenders, put them in a container, poured some sweet and spicy sauce on them, plopped a lid on the container and shook.

No long-term marinating. No tender brushing on of the sauce. Just a deep "fry 'n shake" preparation, which doesn't even have the catchiness of "Shake 'n Bake." If I had ordered the buffalo or honey barbecue wings they would have just swapped in another sauce.

Even so the flavor did penetrate surprisingly deep into the chicken. That probably had something to do with the fact that I ordered to go and drove about 10 minutes home before digging in. My guess is that was important steeping time, and I'd recommend you do the same.

These wings aren't going to set the world on fire (or even your tongue), especially if you watch the preparation. But they were enough to kick me out of the summer blahs of ice cream bars and grilled hot dogs. Four sporks out of five.

July 10, 2009

Furlough Friday: Dig your way out with plastic

Fear not, all ye without optimal work situations. Furlough Friday returns with money saving tips for the most depraved of the jobless. Life from Pennsylvania ... it's Furlough Friday!

As worklessness drags on and bills pile up, trips to the pawn shop and scrapyard can take a bite out of the best-stocked home. Goodbye fine china, so long artwork and farewell, silverware.

The only problem is that eating a steaming bowl of furlough-fine 50-cent macaroni and cheese with your hands is a painful, sloppy proposition. Even if you were forced to sell every last salad fork, you need some sort of utensil for eating. And if you're chronically unable to use chopsticks like me, whittling down some twigs from the front yard isn't going to help much.

Fortunately fast food restaurants stock plastic silverware. When you get a Toffee Coffee Twisted Frosty on your furlough day, make sure to keep the frosty spoon. Slipping an extra plastic fork from the tray whenever possible isn't a bad idea either. Pretty soon you can build up an impressive stock of plastic silverware for home use, wash, and reuse.

Try not to think about the strange chemicals from the plastic seeping out after a few washes. The way things are going, we might not have enough cash to feed ourselves, so we won't be living long enough to worry about poking our livers over the edge with little synthetic fork prongs.

There are also nice packages of plastic silverware that claim to be "dishwasher safe." I bought one the other day while in a pinch for utensils. Dishwasher capability wasn't actually one of my prerequisites when buying the pack, but I take every bonus I can find right now.

Those of you who are too honest to pocket an extra spork from Taco Bell might want to take the store-bough plastic silverware route. A box of 24 spoons cost 69 cents and could last me years. Sure, they sometimes break when digging in the bottom of a big peanut butter jar, but nothing's perfect. They're a lot more useful than the plastic in my wallet right now.

Plastic silverware is the only way to eat while laid off. It's cheap, reusable, and has that barely-made-my-mortgage feel that's so chic these days.

Plus, it serves as a visual reminder that you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

July 1, 2009

How do you eat your chocolate coated ice cream bars?

As far as I know there are two basic ways to eat a chocolate coated ice cream bar. You can just bite it, taking pieces of chocolate and chunks of ice cream in one motion of your jaw. Or you can painstakingly pick the slim chocolate outside off and then eat the ice cream.

I suppose you could also lick the chocolate outside, but that would probably take too long. By the time you got through the chocolate, all the ice cream would have already melted and run down the stick onto your hand where it would be sticky and leave you unhappy.

So that leaves the two main ways to eat these bars of goodness on a stick. But before I break down each one, I'd like to indulge in a brief aside about the name of ice cream bars.

They should be called popsicles.

You see, they're on a stick. Anything you eat off a wooden stick should be a popsicle. But it seems the boxes of ice cream coated in a hard chocolate shell on a stick label them as ice cream bars. (Erroneously in my opinion.)

Trademark law might have something to do with that. But in my world ice cream bars should be things you pick up to eat with your hands, like Klondike Bars and ice cream sandwiches. For the purpose of clarity in this piece, I've compromised and decided to call them ice cream bars, though.

Now, without further ado, let's break down the two methods of eating a so-called ice cream bar.

Chomp them: You get the perfect mix of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The textures of the fluffy ice cream and thick chocolate meld perfectly. You don't get too much chocolate conforming to your teeth because the ice cream is there to wash it away. Plus, if you have sensitive teeth, that chocolate coating shields them from the cold as you bite in.

Strip them: This is the option for people who only eat one thing off their dinner plate at a time. If you can't eat your steak until you finish the potatoes, this is your route. The problem is that it's not easy to get the coating off -- by the time you do half the ice cream is gone along with it. Plus, the ice cream that's on the bar isn't the highest quality to begin with. That's why it's buried underneath chocolate on an ice cream bar instead of in some vat at Cold Stone.

I bet you can tell which technique I prefer -- chomping. So how do you eat your chocolate covered ice cream bar? If you have your own unique style, feel free to share.