Holy tubers, I hope that tastes better than it looks

28 11 2010

Question #1: What on earth is a taro root?

That’s what the cashier asked me when I bought the miniature tuber. When the cashier at a grocery store has to ask you what on earth you’re buying, you might want to rethink your food choices.

Unless you’re a food blogger. Then it’s OK.

Question #2: How on earth do you eat a taro root?

Actually, let’s back up. Can you eat a taro root?

Harnessing the awesome power of the Internet with my fingertips (read: Going to Google), I found the answer. Taro root is most definitely edible. Preparing it, however, might prove difficult.

Take this blog, for instance. It told me I can deep-fry and batter taro root, which sounds incredible. But when I looked at the ingredients list, I felt that same cold churning feeling in the pit of my stomach that I did on my first day of high-school Spanish class.

Oh my goodness…oh my goodness…I don’t know what any of this MEANS!

Chepankizhangu? Urad dal? Looks like someone fell asleep on their keyboard. No way do I have any of that (whatever it is) in my pantry.

I found a more understandable way to prepare it, but it involves tofu. I feel like adding tofu to something I’m reviewing just sort of takes away from it somehow.

So, Plan B: fry it. According to the Internet, that’s okay.

But first, I wanted to taste it raw.

Now, according to Food Reference, taro root is toxic in its raw form and should always be cooked before eating. (This is why I love the Internet, because it saved me from certain death by tuber today.) Call me crazy, but I still wanted to know what it tasted like raw (and I feel like no review would be complete without it). So I decided to take an itty bitty bite.

I used a potato peeler to remove the hairy outside (which, by the way, got all over the inside. Thank goodness for running water). Then I sliced it into pieces and nibbled off an edge.

It was kind of slimy, and it tasted almost exactly like a potato. The flavor wasn’t as strong as a sweet potato, but it was a little more nutty and woody than your average tater. The aftertaste was more potent than the original flavor, and much more bitter.

Interesting. Definitely not bad (well, other than the toxicity factor). Time to fry it.

I tossed the pieces into a pan of canola oil and fried them for about five minutes. When they were done, I snatched up the biggest piece and ate it.

It reminded me of a french fry without salt … so I added some salt to the rest.

Not surprisingly, they tasted like they belonged at a fast-food joint.

I suppose the strong similarity to french fries makes sense when you consider that a taro root is the potato’s cousin. In fact, it can be substituted for a potato in many dishes. (Though potatoes are generally cheaper.)

In all, they weren’t bad. I’m reminded of the very first food I ever tried for this blog, Terra Chips. My favorite variation was the taro chip — and in fact, Terra makes taro chips that I still need to buy as a snack. Those were even better than the fried version I made today.

But now I know what taro root tastes like — at least when it’s fried. (Well, and raw, but don’t try that at home.) I still have another root left — maybe I should fry it and take it back to the grocery store as an early Christmas gift for that confused cashier.

———

Ingredients: Taro root.
Price: $3.99 per pound at Fry’s Marketplace
Pros: Tastes like a potato … or like a french fry, if you fry and salt it.
Cons: It looks like hairy dog poop. No, I’m not sorry for that. It’s true. Oh and also, it’s toxic when it’s raw — so cook it before you eat it.

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Pudding, meet candy

21 11 2010

When I think about watermelons, I think about summer days and seed-spitting contests with little redheaded, pigtailed Susie who won every single year because she had a gap in her front teeth.

Okay, so I grew up in Chicago and Phoenix and I’ve never been to a seed-spitting contest. I’ve never met a gap-toothed girl named Susie. And honestly, I don’t really think about watermelons very often.

But when I came across watermelon pudding in the grocery store, the first thing that came to mind was neither seed-spitting contests nor watermelons. It was pure, unadulterated disgust, coupled with the question, Why?

Yes, I bought it. Of course I bought it.

What stood out to me the most about this (besides the combination of the words “watermelon” and “pudding” in the title) was the color. Not quite pink, not quite orange, it was only very slightly reminiscent of a real watermelon. Maybe if a watermelon had jaundice, it would be that color. Can watermelons get jaundice?

Anyway. It’s probably worth mentioning that the pudding wasn’t the only one of its kind on the shelf — displayed next to it were also juicy pear and cotton candy varieties. (Bright green and Pepto Bismol pink, respectively. Who picks the colors for this stuff? Crayola?) Pear pudding didn’t seem that strange, and for awhile it was a toss-up between the watermelon and the cotton candy, but in the end, I chose watermelon mostly on account of its color. And also because I could not for the life of me fathom how watermelon pudding was supposed to taste.

I was about to find out.

The first thing I did when I took off the lid was sniff the pudding (of course). It smelled sweet — almost sickeningly so. It actually smelled a lot like Jolly Ranchers (only even sweeter) — which was a little strange considering that it’s made by Jelly Belly. But I’ve always thought watermelon jelly beans were a little boring anyway. Maybe sweet would be okay.

When I scooped it onto my spoon, it looked like Jabba the Hutt was clinging on for dear life. Not exactly appetizing. (But then again, can orangey-pink pudding be expected to look appetizing? Ever?)

I put the spoonful in my mouth and contemplated.

Not bad, actually.

At first, it tasted almost exactly like vanilla pudding. Don’t ask me why, but it did. Maybe my taste buds have gone a little crazy after all I’ve put them through.

The aftertaste, though, was most definitely watermelon. And by watermelon I don’t mean the seed-spittin’ kind, I mean the artificial, sugar-loaded flavor that’s in Jolly Ranchers — and I suppose also in jellybeans.

I liked the original flavor better.

In fact, I kept eating it in little spoonfuls, savoring the flavor and then taking another quick bite before the aftertaste had time to kick in.

The verdict? It’s a little too sweet (and fake-watermelon-y) for my taste, but for as strange as it seems at first glance, it’s really not bad. I’d pick butterscotch pudding over this brightly colored wonder, but if you’re a big watermelon Jolly Rancher fan, this is probably heaven in a cup.

And if you don’t like watermelon Jolly Ranchers and you’re ever forced to eat this for whatever reason, shovel it down in quick spoonfuls. It’s better that way.

———

Ingredients: Nonfat milk, water, sugar, modified corn starch, vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil), contains 1% or less of the following: natural and artificial flavor, salt, xanthan gum, disodium phosphate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, Yellow 5 and Red 40.
Price: $0.99 at Fry’s Marketplace (4 per package)
Pros: Tasted like vanilla pudding at first. Colorful. Almost pretty…like a sunset…
Cons: The strong, sweet aftertaste wasn’t my favorite, and pudding that tastes like candy is still a little incongruous.





Cheddar ‘n bacon, Take 2

15 11 2010

I like to think I never make the same mistake twice. That’s not true, of course, but I like to think it.

When I was wandering through Safeway’s cracker aisle the other day, I though about last week’s Cheddar ‘n Bacon Easy Cheese, which is still sitting in my cupboard. (I was pondering cheese again, yes.) Suddenly, like a sign from the heavens, a box of Ritz Crackerfuls caught my eye. “Cheddar Cheese and Bacon,” the package read — which sounded all too familiar.

I’m not trying these, I thought. They’re just like Easy Cheese on a cracker — gourmet-style.

But then I saw something beautiful on the box: “Real Cheese & Bacon.” That sounded…refreshing. Promising — like it just might have that bacon-burger-on-a-cracker taste I’d hoped for from the Easy Cheese. With a resigned sigh, I plopped the box into my cart.

When I went to open the box, I expected rows of crackers in a plastic container, or maybe brown plastic bags stacked with crackers like regular Ritz boxes have. What I didn’t expect was individual wrapping.

Impressive.

Now the real test: would they taste any better than the Easy Cheese version?

I took a bite, and the answer was a definite yes.

These tasted real. The cheese tasted like cheese (although obviously it’s drier and more powdery than your standard block of cheddar). And the best part? I could taste the bacon.

Real bacon, according to the ingredients. It was beautiful.

I have to say it still didn’t taste like a bacon burger, but that makes sense, seeing as it was missing the burger factor. Come to think of it, adding beef to these might make them even better. But they weren’t bad to begin with.

The crackers are whole grain — not your average Ritz crackers, but probably healthier. From a read-through of the ingredients list, the cheese and bacon are apparently real (though the cheese is made with pasteurized milk — but that’s understandable). And the overall quality in taste is miles above Easy Cheese on a cracker.

Plus, they’re individually wrapped. You can’t go wrong with that.

———

Ingredients:

Unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, folic acid), whole grain wheat flour, palm and/or soybean and/or high oleic canola oil, resistant corn maltodextrin, sugar, cheddar cheese powder (pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, semisoft cheeses (pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, bacon ends (cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, sodium ascorbate and sodium nitrate), whey, salt, leavening (calcium phosphate and/or baking soda), partially hydrogenated soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, whey protein concentrate, lactose, disodium phosphate, natural flavor, citric and lactic acids, soy lecithin, rendered bacon fat and bacon bits (cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium ascorbate and sodium nitrate), dry cream (from milk), monosodium phosphate, rosemary extract, green tea extract, cheddar cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes, annatto extract color), annatto extract (vegetable color) and sodium caseinate.
Price: $3.79 at Safeway
Pros: Real bacon! Real cheese! Whole grains!
Cons: The ingredient list took up an entire side panel on the box, but at least I can pronounce most of them.





The epitome of American food

7 11 2010

There is no better American invention than the bacon burger. 

When I lived off cafeteria food my freshman year of college, I had a bacon burger nearly every day for lunch. Probably not the healthiest option…but man were they good.

Now, if bacon burgers are on one end of the of unhealthy American food spectrum, the food that lies on the other end can only be one thing: spray cheese.

I grew up calling it Cheez Whiz, but apparently that refers to equally-processed cheese dip and the correct term for Kraft’s spray cheese is Easy Cheese.

Easy indeed. When it comes to pasteurization and processing, you can’t get any more Americanized unless you eat a Chicken McNugget.  Put Velveeta in a toothpaste tube (or a hairspray can), and you’ve got Easy Cheese. Yum, yum.

When I saw the section of Easy Cheese in the grocery store, I almost passed it by. Everyone knows what aerosol cheese tastes like — no need to rehash it. But next to the regular flavors — Cheddar, American and Sharp Cheddar — the word “bacon” caught my eye (as it usually does under any circumstances).

Cheddar ‘n Bacon Easy Cheese. Would it be enough to balance out my disgust for spray cheese with my love for bacon burgers? I was about to find out.

When I got home, I frantically searched the pantry for Ritz crackers (because everyone knows processed cheese and Ritz go together like peanut butter and jelly), but all I could find were Town House Flipsides. Close enough.

I put (er, squirted?) what I thought was a fairly standard amount of cheese onto a cracker, covering one side. And then I ate it. 

My first impression was that the texture was really not all that pleasant. If you took away the flavor, I would have been chewing sawdust and paste.

But the flavor was the point, so that’s what I focused on as I ate it. (In fact, I’ll bet no one has ever eaten cheese on a cracker as contemplatively as I did.) By the time I was finished, I felt…conflicted.

If the can hadn’t informed me that it was supposed to be bacon-flavored, I don’t think I would have known. I could definitely taste the cheddar, and I tasted something saltier mixed in, but I wouldn’t have been able to identify it without the label.

I suppose it was disappointing more than anything. Spray cheese is spray cheese, but if you add bacon to it (or to anything), I’ll be more inclined to buy it. However, if I can barely tell it’s supposed to taste like bacon, it quickly loses its appeal.

Overall, the promise of bacon wasn’t enough to outweigh the fact that processed cheese is just…not good. There are much more terrible foods out there, but I can’t imagine buying this for any reason other than as a cheap, quasi-healthy snack. (After all, it does contain protein.)

In the end, bacon or no bacon, anything that has to be described as a “pasteurized cheese snack” is simply…

——— 

Ingredients: Cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), water, whey protein concentrate, canola oil, milk protein concentrate, contains less than 2% of sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, salt, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, natural flavor, yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, tomato powder, bacon (cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrate), spice, lactose, dried onions, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color), artificial color and caramel color.
Price: $3.50 at Safeway
Pros: Bacon. Kind of.
Cons: It’s spray cheese no matter how you swing it, and the list of ingredients is longer than my grocery list.





Nightmare in a tin can

2 11 2010

When I was a kid, I used to have nightmares about a giant octopus attacking me with its tentacles. The thought of those gargantuan suction cups still gives me chills to this day.

I never thought I’d eat an octopus out of a tin, but today, I did.

Preserved, rubbery, dead invertebrate? Oh, yes, please!

… Not.

I know octopus is a delicacy for some people — or a lot of people, actually. In Hawaii, especially, octopus is a common dish. In fact, my dad tried an octopus in Hawaii once. He said it tasted like chicken. Of course.

When I saw a can of octopus, my gag reflex instinctively kicked into gear. No way, I thought. Absolutely no way.

I bought it.  Go figure.

When I think of canned meat, I think of Spam. When I think of octopus, I think of the stuff of nightmares. Spam + nightmares = not something I want to eat.

The package said it was a product of Thailand — a Thai octopus, if you will.  I guess Thailand didn’t want it. I wouldn’t blame them.

As I slowly peeled open the can, all I could think of was tentacles. Giant suction cups. Nightmares. I was about to eat this:

© Hellen Fordham, Flickr.com

… out of a can. I admit I was slightly terrified.

When the tin was open, the smell — one that can only be described as a pungent mixture of seafood and formaldehyde — permeated the room.  I took a close look at the tin’s contents and died a little inside.

Gingerly, I picked up a piece with a fork, trying to ignore the black remnants of what I can only assume was octopus skin (or maybe suction cups) clinging to it.  I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth …

And …

It was good.  And not just “Well, not bad” … but good.

The first words out of my mouth were, “It tastes like a pig and a fish had a baby!” Clearly I’m an eloquent person. But it was true — if someone found a way to mix ham with fish, they’d get something along the lines of smoked, salted octopus.

I still don’t know for sure what the black stuff on it was, nor what it was floating around in. (Apparently it was soybean oil, but I’m suspicious.) I’m kind of beyond caring, though. It was too delicious for me to care.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this part, but immediately after trying a piece, I grabbed a slice of pizza and plopped some meat on top of it. Octopus pizza, yes. I lead such an adventurous life, I know. But honestly, it tasted great — like ham pizza, only saltier and … fishier. I think it just might have potential.

The only downside is that the aftertaste (and after-smell) are as poignant as the smell was when I originally opened the tin. I can still taste it, even after pizza and juice. My hands still smell like whatever the meat was soaking in. Essentially, I smell like my nightmares.

But you know what? Some nightmares taste good. Especially on pizza.

———

Ingredients: None listed except “smoked, sliced octopus in soybean oil, salt added.”
Price:
$4.47 at AJ’s
Pros: Surprisingly delicious, especially on pizza.
Cons: Strong (and not-so-delicious) smell and aftertaste.








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