Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stater Bros. Pepperoni Pizza Bites

Stater Bros. Generic Pizza Bites
Price: $2.50
Rating: * / *****

Here are some Stater Brothers brand pizza bites. It was a dollar cheaper than the Totino's pizza rolls, so I decided to be thrifty. Hey, a pizza bite is a pizza bite. I don’t want to pay for marketing and advertising. They'll be just as good as the name brand. Right?




Don't buy generic food. It is flavorless and the cashiers will laugh at you while you're walking to your car. Well, scratch that. Some generic stuff is alright if you can look past the ridiculous mascots that looked like they were whipped up as a result of a "photoshop the worst mascot you can think of" contest. ABC news seems to think the generic cereals are on par, and ABC is okay with me. However, this is not cereal. These are pizza bites.

Theoretically, it would take a lot to mess up a pizza bite. Essentially, there are 4 ingredients to a pepperoni pizza bite: pepperoni, pizza sauce, cheese, and...whatever the crust is called in this case(pizza shell?). A small child could mix those ingredients and throw it in a deep fryer and make it tasty. How can it go wrong? Well, let me count the ways...

The pepperoni is completely flavorless. I'm not a picky eater, as you probably already know. I've never really had pepperoni that I didn't like, I just expect it to taste like something. So that is strike 1. The sauce tastes like tomato sauce that has been left out for a few days and then thrown in the microwave since the kids wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway. Well, I have news for you, they can. It also tastes like a spoonful of fiber or something was added to it...you get all of the bitter aftertaste without any of the digestive benefits. The crust-thing is horrendously chewy, more so than it has any right to be. I put it in the toaster oven and followed instructions but got no crispiness at all. And worst of all...

Where's the fucking cheese?

Pizza without cheese is like eating breadsticks, which while delicious, is also free at nearly every sit-down restaurant. The cheese is what you're paying for, people! I want the thing to have cheese that burns my mouth and stretches several feet after I bite into it. That's how I can tell it's good. I would call it the "string theory", but apparently that name has already been taken by some stupid thing called physics.

So there it is, 4 ingredients, 4 letdowns. That is a subtraction of 4 stars, which makes this a 1 star product. They couldn't even get one aspect of it right. The rest of the bag is now sitting in my freezer. I know that I'll never eat it, but I can't bring myself to throw them away. Maybe I'll just feed them to my friends.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

T.G.I. Friday's Mozzarella Sticks

Price: $3.29
Rating: *** / *****

I could tell you that I frequent hip and zany chains like Friday's, but I'd be lying to you. I never quite understood the appeal of waiting in line so that you could be seated in a poorly lit booth where it sounds like there are amplifiers next to your ears. Friday's has to be the single most obnoxiously loud restaurant in the western hemisphere. I could slaughter animals in there and I don't think anyone would hear me. My friends and I actually learned a simple form of sign language to communicate while in the vicinity of the local Friday's. Sure, it made me feel intellectual, but the payoff was hardly worth it. To top it off, the food is overpriced and the waitresses are not scantily clad enough to make up for any other shortcomings.

Despite my incessant bitching, I must admit that they have some fun food on their menu. Personally, I would like to meet the person behind fried macaroni and cheese balls and green bean french fries. I don't even want to try them, I just admire the gall that it would take to pitch that idea to corporate. I am convinced that their test kitchen is run by people who smoke ridiculous amounts of marijuana. Their line of frozen snacks, however, are not quite as adventurous as you would think. Not at all adventurous like the Jimmy Eat World "World of Adventure" webisode where Tom joins a death metal band. No, they're just typical boring things like mozzarella sticks, potato skins, and jalapeno poppers. Luckily, the food itself is much better than the band's acting.

I was very happy to see that the sticks came with a large pouch of marinara sauce. Unfortunately, the pouch was not microwavable and had to be submerged in boiling water to thaw. Lame. The sticks themselves were put into a toaster oven where I proceeded to check on them 20 seconds too late and realized that many of them had bursted open. I salvaged them, but they were not the pristine beauties that they could have been. Unlike other mozzarella sticks that are fish-stick shaped, these are thin rectangles. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind this, but it made it harder to eat and generally messed up the cheese to breading ratio. There's too much breading for my liking, but it doesn't detract too much from the snack.

A problem I had was that the cheese didn't stay gooey long enough to enjoy in one sitting. I shared this with another person and noticed that the cheese would harden up after having about two sticks. I had to nuke it in the microwave another 2 times before finishing to get it to the consistency that I so desired. Stretchy, melty cheese is essential. Still, it was pretty good and there were a good amount of sticks to enjoy. It's a little pricey, but you have to pay extra for true gourmet food such as deep fried cheese.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Trader Joe's Mushroom Ravioli

Price: $2.59
Rating: *** / *****

Finals at uni(yes! British slang is awesome) are officially FINISHED. I can not describe the relief obtained with the freedom from that purgatory that they call higher education. I did a little jig in the elevator after the last one was done, much to the dismay and bemusement of the people around me.

Never again will I have to explain the intricacies of phonemes, morphemes, graphemes, and any other -eme word that they decide to make up to confuse me. Never again will I have to consider the advantages of mythril weapons in an era when farming was considered normal and not hickish. At least until the cycle is started again in a few weeks.

So there is some time to be had now. I can play World of Warcraft for 50 hours straight, but I think I'll pass for now. I used my time to go down to the local Trader Joe's and check out their wares. Trader Joe's is a pretty small store compared to supermarkets, but it has so many interesting items that you'll probably stop everywhere lest you miss something cool. I ended up buying a lot more than what I had originally planned. Since my life is now consumed by food and I can not eat without thinking that I need my camera, I bought a lot of things to review. Wow, a day out of school and already my syntax has gone to hell. Run on sentences, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Trader Joe's has more cheese than a romance novel, so I decided to pick some up. I noticed that there was some packaged pasta next to it, so I looked through their assortment until I found one that caught my eye. The ravioli seemed fresh enough and wasn't frozen, so it those had that working in its favor. From the outside, it looks that it can liven up quite a bit after a quick dip in boiling water.

From the outside, that is. The end result is less than spectacular. Since the filling was describe as mushroom and cheese, I was expecting something that was at least somewhat creamy. The mushroom, however, was roughly chopped and there was no trace of cheese flavor or texture to be found. The filling resembled ground beef. That's probably the way they tried to make it, but it just doesn't turn out very well. To make things worse, the pasta is slightly tough and a tad chewy. I know I didn't overcook or undercook it(I tasted it and left some in to see if it would soften up) so I can only assume that it just isn't a tender pasta. It isn't very smooth either, the outer layer is somewhat rough.

Despite my disappointment, the ravioli is decent when eaten with a sauce. The flavor, while a little bland, is not offensive and goes well with other flavors. I added a touch of olive oil, parmesan cheese, herbs, and red pepper flakes. Just don't expect a great meal. The Olive Garden's portabella mushroom ravioli in the cheese sauce is worlds better and just crushes it in term of texture and creaminess, so if you liked that you'll probably be disappointed by the Trader Joe's version. Say what you will about chain restaurants, but it's all food to me. And besides, you can pretend to be like those people from the Olive Garden commercials and laugh through your ENTIRE meal. Don't forget to bring your token light-skinned black friend and leave out other minorities!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Marie Callendar's Herb Roasted Chicken

Price: $2.50
Rating: ** / *****

Well folks, Christmas season is in full force right now. For most people, this means gifts and time with loved ones, maybe with some compulsive shopping and poorly conceived confessions of love thrown in. For others like myself, it is a time for frozen dinners, crying in the shower, and staring in the mirror lamenting the fact that all I have is a sliding mirror closet. Christmas just holds a special place in all of our hearts. Maybe it's only because of the brainwashing from the American media or the litany of strip clubs promising me "ho's, ho's, ho's", but it has worked on me. Even for a heathen like myself, the spirit(and by spirit, I do mean alcohol) of the holidays triggers something deep on the inside. Check out the sweet snowman tablecloth. Yeah. On to the review...

If you looked up "bland" in the dictionary, then you'd be a nerd. But if you looked up "bland" in the dictionary again, you would find a picture of this meal right next to it. It looked like the perfect Christmas meal, too. This is a big disappointment for me because I was intrigued by the possibility of a home-style meal(okay, maybe not in my home, but somebody's home) that had real pieces of chicken in it. That's right, no processing involved at all! Makes you wonder why other companies can't do that, but I digress.

The chicken, while real, is horribly under-seasoned and doesn't come out very well in the microwave. What is brown on the box picture turns out a sandy gray after heating. The mystery herbs are never specified and don't offer much in the flavor or fragrance department. The addition of some lemon pepper from my pantry made it tasty enough, but the meal shouldn't need additions to be enjoyable. The cooking time is also odd, as the box calls for everything to be cooked at once, but the chicken was done a solid 3 minutes before the mashed potatoes were. Nothing quite like stringy, burnt chicken to chew on. Of course, you have to take out the chicken and then mix the mashed potatoes to heat the meal correctly but the box doesn't say anything about that.

Not all is bad, though. The vegetables, broccoli and carrots, were not overwhelmingly mushy and were swimming in enough liquid to stay moist while the mashed potatoes tried to defrost itself. The potatoes had a reasonably thick texture after cooking, though it needed a pat of butter to taste good. I guess everything could use a pat of butter, but I only wish they wouldn't make me have to do that to my arteries. I don't want a heart transplant for Christmas...unless it were Superman's heart or something. I guess that would be a fair trade off. If they ever get the cajones to put some seasoning on the meal, I may buy it again. Until then, steer clear of this home-style tray of blah.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Maui Hawaiian Barbecue Chicken+Beef

Price: $6.45
Rating: ***** / *****

The Hawaiian plate lunch is something that has intrigued me since I saw Rachael Ray fake a mouthgasm while eating one on an episode of $40 a Day. Semi-interestingly enough, I first thought that $40 a Day was a show about spending big and eating gourmet, but was shocked when I found out that it was about eating on a budget. I guess they took my idea for $40 a Week and shortened it down or something. Anyway, she didn't really seem to genuinely enjoy it too much, but I knew that rice, fatty meat, and macaroni salad was a meal that I could dig on.

The biggest thing that bothers me is the price of the meal. It'll cost you $9.00, including a tropically themed drink, for a meal that they serve you in a styrofoam tray with a plastic knife. I at least want silver cutlery if you're charging me that much! From what I understand, the mainland Hawaiian barbecue places jack up the prices since they have the market cornered. While it is a bit too pricey to eat consistently, it is really, really, really good. Really.

I got the Chicken and Beef combo and asked for the deep fried chicken instead of the grilled one. Chicken Katsu is different from traditional fried chicken because it is coated in fine panko bread crumbs and not seasoned. That's where the sauce comes in. Some places serve it with a gravy, but this one came with a tangy brown sauce. To go along with it, a huge heaping pile of sauteed beef made the whole thing special. The barbecue beef is fatty and heavily seasoned, both traits perfect for this type of fair. Lean beef would be underwhelming, and the fat keeps it moist so that you further enjoy your rice and macaroni salad.

The sides are an essential aspect of the meal here. The signature of a proper Hawaiian macaroni salad is that the dressing is mild and the macaroni is soft. It is yummy, there's nothing else quite like it. The 1 and a half scoops of rice were well cooked, but my only complaint was that I was finished with my rice before I was even halfway done with my chicken and beef. Still, by that point I was full and the leftovers went great with a fresh batch of rice the next day. Huzzah!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lean Cuisine Asian-Style Beef With Ginger & Soy

Price: $2.00
Rating: *** / *****

The Lean Cuisine section at my local supermarket is quite the monolith to sort through. I feel like Beethoven's 9th symphony is going to burst out from behind the freezer and a band of employees are going to reach their arms out to take me into their lair. Or something along those lines. It is a daunting task to choose from the selection, I have literally stood there for minutes as small children walked by to laugh at my statuesque gaze.

I finally decided on Asian-Style beef and rice this time. I said, "Hey, I'm Asian. I like beef. I like rice. I like the concept of being lean. I like cuisine. I like the chopsticks in this picture. What can go wrong?" The answer? Not a whole lot, as it turns out. It can certainly be improved, though. The rice was nice and fluffy, though they could have tried to pack in more to round the dish out. There was actually more beef than rice, which is nice but a bit too heavy. The beef isn't actually real slices of beef, which is to be expected. It is "seasoned cooked beef product", but it actually tasted pretty nice. The sauce had a bit of hoison sauce and salted plum, giving it a distinct edge and pleasantly bitter ending note.

The veggies included broccoli, red peppers, carrots, and water chestnuts. I haven't had many experiences with water chestnuts, but I was surprised by how crispy it stayed even after microwaving in sauce. Unlike other nuts, it has a very light and refreshing flavor, coming closer to fresh jicama or daikon radish. The other vegetables weren't very noticeable.

I have a beef(very intended) with the picture provided. It shows the dish being served with thin chopsticks. I submit that the somewhat wet rice is impossible to eat with any sort of chopsticks, and I felt a bit foolish putting the plate to my mouth and scooping it in. Surely the people at Lean Cuisine don't expect the average consumer to do this. Maybe they just have a lot of pranksters at their test kitchens. I will club the bones of their children and eat the marrow if I find them!

* note: the editor of Here To Eat does not condone kidnapping and eating children unless provoked